Butler v. Dep't of Labor, No. 16-1115, 2018 WL 3597655 (D.D.C. July 26, 2018) (Cooper, J.)

Date: 
Thursday, July 26, 2018

Butler v. Dep't of Labor, No. 16-1115, 2018 WL 3597655 (D.D.C. July 26, 2018) (Cooper, J.)

Re:  Request for records about an investigation into a fire incident

Disposition: Granting defendants’ renewed motion for summary judgment in part and denying in part; granting plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment in part and denying it in part

  • Exemption 4: The court upholds application of Exemption 4 to procedures and safety protocols used while servicing equipment, explaining, "just because the [defendant's] regulations and standards are known to the public does not mean the methods by which companies meet those standards are public knowledge as well."  With respect to an appendix to a service agreement containing "pricing, rental rates, and cost information for various services and equipment," the court requires the defendant to segregate and release any non-exempt material.   
     
  • Exemption 7, Threshold & Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that the defendant properly withheld "the names and addresses of witnesses who spoke with [the defendant] during its investigation."  The court finds that the records satisfied the law enforcement threshold because the defendant "investigated a workplace accident . . . to determine whether there were safety-related legal violations at the work site."  Furthermore, "regardless of [the plaintiff's] personal motivation for seeking the information . . . disclosing the witnesses' names and addresses would do nothing to shed light on [the defendant's] actions."   
     
  • Exemption 7(D):  The court finds that the defendant properly withheld "handwritten confidential witness statements given by employees who spoke to [the defendant] during its investigation."  The court determines that confidentiality was not waived because the defendant sufficiently demonstrated that an outside attorney was not present at the interviews with non-management employee witnesses.  The court further agrees with the defendant "that releasing redacted witness statements could still reveal the witnesses identities," because "even a single detail could reveal the identities of the employees who spoke with the [agency]" and employees may be able to use the handwriting on the statements to "link the statements to the witnesses."    
     
  • Procedural Considerations, Adequacy of Search: "[B]ecause the [defendant] has since conducted what the parties agree is an adequate search, the Court finds that the issue is moot."
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 4
Exemption 7
Exemption 7D
Procedural
Updated January 31, 2019