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Codrea v. ATF, No. 15-0988, 2017 WL 908182 (D.D.C. Mar. 7, 2017) (Howell, C.J.)


Codrea v. ATF, No. 15-0988, 2017 WL 908182 (D.D.C. Mar. 7, 2017) (Howell, C.J.)


Re: Request for records concerning policies given to hearing officers for determining whether federal firearms licensee's ("FFL's") license should be revoked or suspended


Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7, Threshold: The court holds that "[s]ince the disputed pages are compiled to assist hearing officers in the process of enforcing the [Gun Control Act ("GCA")], the ATF has demonstrated that the withheld four pages meet the threshold requirement for invocation of FOIA Exemption 7." The court finds that "[r]ecords created in connection with hearings carried out by the ATF under the GCA in order to determine whether an applicant for a firearm license was properly denied a license or an FFL's license was properly revoked, are plainly compiled to further the law enforcement purposes of the GCA by ensuring that firearm licenses are awarded consistent with statutory and regulatory requirements." Additionally, the court finds that "plaintiffs' proposed interpretation of the threshold requirement for the application of Exemption 7[, "that a hearing officer, for whom the training guide was designed, 'does not serve as a law enforcement or prosecutorial official,'"] is overly narrow."
  • Exemption 7(E): The court holds that "[t]he withheld four pages appear to qualify as both guidance to the ATF hearing officers implementing the GCA licensing scheme and reveal law enforcement techniques for ferreting out GCA violations." "Consequently, the ATF has met the last requirement of FOIA Exemption 7(E)." The court relates that "ATF's declarants explain that the withheld answers to the two questions in the training guide reveals 'the specific criteria for determining willful violations' of the GCA[]" and "the withheld information relays information about the types of evidence sought in law enforcement investigations and thereby 'necessarily would disclose information about the underlying techniques and procedures themselves.'" "Furthermore, the withheld four pages set out examples of 'very specific statements a licensees may have made during a regulatory inspection,' . . . and disclosure 'would permit licensees the ability to circumvent the regulatory enforcement process, and specifically, be able to conceal the fact to [the] ATF investigators that they are knowingly and intentionally disregarding the law[.]'" Responding to plaintiffs' objection, the court finds that "[w]hile examples of the type of evidence probative of willful violations might be helpful as guideposts for law-abiding people, the plaintiffs ignore the obvious risk that descriptions of inculpatory evidence invites non-law-abiding people to prioritize making that evidence disappear."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: "Based on the ATF's supporting declaration, the Court concludes that the agency adequately specified 'which portions of the document[s] are disclosable and which are allegedly exempt.'" The court relates that "ATF's declarant avers that the ATF 'staff reviewed each page of the material identified as responsive to determine whether all non-exempt, reasonably segregable information was released to [the p]laintiffs.'" "'As a result of this review, all available non-exempt, reasonably segregable information has been provided to [the p]laintiffs.'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated December 13, 2021