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Cohodes v. DOJ, No. 20-04015, 2024 WL 2701618 (N.D. Cal. May 23, 2024) (Beeler, Mag. J.)


Cohodes v. DOJ, No. 20-04015, 2024 WL 2701618 (N.D. Cal. May 23, 2024) (Beeler, Mag. J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff

Disposition:  Ordering disclosure of several items of information in records submitted for in camera inspection

  • Exemption 6; Exemption 7(C):  The court concludes that “the government must produce the following information that it redacted:  (1) the name of [the person] who sent [an] anonymous email [“offering to provide information about the plaintiff”] . . . ; (2) the name and email address of the individual who forwarded the anonymous email to the FBI . . . ; (3) the names of the three [company] witnesses interviewed by the government in January 2018 . . . ; (4) the names of the two [company] witnesses interviewed by the government in February 2018 . . . ; and (5) the email address of the person who offered information about [plaintiff] in exchange for BitCoin . . . .”  The underlying situation involved “[a company’s] apparent campaign against the plaintiff in 2017 and 2018 . . . , including a lawsuit challenging the short sellers, and resulting in a DOJ investigation of the plaintiff for insider trading,” “the FBI visit[ing] the plaintiff at his home,” “[the company’s] principals . . . [being] convicted of securities fraud in 2020,” and “[the company] [paying] $6.5 million to resolve a False Claims Act suit involving false commercial pricing disclosures.”

    The court first finds that “[t]he government does not explain how the two emails [at issue] are ‘similar files’ to ‘personnel files and medical files’ such that they warrant exemption under Exemption 6.”  “Email one is a private email sent under a pseudonym to an attorney, who then forwarded it (email two) to the FBI.”  “That said, the government hasn’t established that disclosure would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy (or, under Exemption 7(C), that it could reasonably be expected to be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy).”  “How can a pseudonym be private if it doesn't lead to the ability to identify the person? (The government provides no evidence that it could.)”  “And as to the forwarding of the email, as the plaintiff argues, disclosure of lawyers’ names in their representational capacities does not result in an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”  “There is no cognizable privacy interest under Exemptions 6 and 7(C).”

    “As to the application of Exemption 7(C) to the law-enforcement records, there is only a limited privacy interest in matters already in the public domain.”  The court finds that “a ‘person’s privacy interest is lessened, if not entirely eliminated, when the person . . . has commented publicly about such information.’”  “[The company’s] executives discussed [plaintiff] publicly.”  “[The company’s] CEO . . . posted on [the company’s] website that the plaintiff was the ‘ringmaster’ of the short-seller ‘attacks.’”  “[The company’s CEO] said in another blog post . . . that he, [the company’s] president . . . , and [the company’s] general counsel . . . ‘were called to the DOJ offices in New York to meet with investigators.’”  “Based on the case law, one cannot conclude that the information in the two Treasury Memos . . . is exempt under Exemption 7(C).”  “Even if there were a privacy interest, the public interest in disclosure here – on this record – outweighs any individual privacy interests.”  “Again, the asserted privacy interest is weak.”  “Moreover, in addition to the facts recounted above that support disclosure, there is an allegation about a report from a sitting senator [potentially involved in this situation].”  “At minimum, disclosure casts light on what happened.”  “The court orders the disclosures.”

    “The last issue is the anonymous email address from a person who sent – via the email service – an email to one of the witnesses in the Treasury memos offering to provide information about the plaintiff.”  “There is no discernable privacy interest in this anonymous email between private parties that was disclosed to the government.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(C)
Updated June 24, 2024