Buzzfeed, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 17-7949, 2019 WL 1114864 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2019) (Broderick, J.)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Buzzfeed, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 17-7949, 2019 WL 1114864 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2019) (Broderick, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning Investigative Summary published May 16, 2017, entitled: "'Findings of Misconduct by a Former United States Attorney for Having an Inappropriate Relationship with a Subordinate'"

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7(C):  First, the court "conclude[s] that there is at least a de minimis privacy interest in the nondisclosure of the Officials' identities[]" because "the U.S. Attorney and Supervisory AUSA undoubtedly have an interest in keeping the facts of their improper relationship from the public eye and in avoiding disclosure of their identities to prevent embarrassment."  Second, the court "find[s] that there is a significant public interest in revealing the Officials' identifying information[]" because "Plaintiff contends that knowing the identities of the government wrongdoers ensures that the public can hold those individuals accountable for their actions as public servants."  "Furthermore, without knowing the Officials' identities, Plaintiff contends the public cannot be sure which individuals were bad actors, in which U.S. Attorney's Office they worked, who filled the U.S. Attorney's seat after his resignation, how the Office addressed the reported toxic culture, or if the U.S. Attorney has since served in another government position about which the public would have an interest in knowing."  Finally, "[h]aving balanced the competing interests at issue, [the court] find[s] that the public interest in disclosure of the identities of the U.S. Attorney and Supervisory AUSA outweighs those individuals' privacy interests."  The court finds that "the Government employee's rank . . . weighs in favor of disclosure."  "The Government concedes that the U.S. Attorney's 'high rank' weighs in favor of release."  "Similarly, [the court] find[s] that the Supervisory AUSA is sufficiently high-ranking such that this factor weighs in favor of disclosure."  Additionally, the court finds that "the allegations regarding the improper relationship between the U.S. Attorney and Supervisory AUSA were substantiated by the OIG's investigation."  "Indeed, the U.S. Attorney resigned at the beginning of the investigation, perhaps because 'he knew that EOUSA would have asked for his resignation if they discovered the affair."  "Accordingly, both the amount of evidence and the degree of wrongdoing support disclosure."  Also, the court notes that "Plaintiff seeks access to information contained in the exclusive control of the OIG."  Additionally, the court finds that "[t]he information sought by Plaintiff would shed light on the misconduct of managerial-level government employees, how that misconduct affected their abilities to fulfill their professional responsibilities, and the impact that misconduct had on the operation of the Office."  Additionally, the court notes that "the wrongdoing had collateral but direct effects on the employees of the Office and work environment in which they worked with the U.S. Attorney and Supervisory AUSA."

    However, the court "uphold[s] the OIG's decision to redact information in connection with the unsubstantiated allegations."  The court finds that "[t]he U.S. Attorney and the additional subject have an interest in protecting their reputation from being associated with unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct."  The court finds that, "[i]n terms of the public interest, the unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct, if any, at most consist of an interest in ensuring that the OIG conducted a proper investigation of the additional allegations of misconduct."  "However, absent evidence of material impropriety by the OIG, the public interest in second-guessing the OIG's investigation is accorded no weight in the balancing of interests under Exemption 7(C)."
District Court
Exemption 7C
Updated March 29, 2019