Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Dep't of Treasury, No. 17-1600, 2018 WL 3795833 (D.D.C. August 9, 2018) (Contreras, J.)
Re: Letter exchanged between the Governor of the Bank of England and former Treasury Secretary
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment.
- Exemption 1: In response to the plaintiff's contention that the letter was improperly classified "to avoid embarrassment of public disclosure," the court explains, "mere speculation that an agency withheld or classified information to avoid embarrassment is not sufficient to pull that information outside the scope" of the executive order. The court notes, "the [defendant] did not classify the Letter until two years after the allegedly embarrassing news reports were released."
The court rejects the plaintiff's argument that the letter does not pertain to "foreign relations" or activities of the United States because "the Letter contains 'sensitive' information regarding international regulatory standards, policy positions of the United States and the United Kingdom, potential next steps both countries may take regarding application of these standards, and other regulatory topics." The court finds that "the potential harm to foreign relations posed by disclosure of United States policy positions contained in the Letter is akin to the potential harm of releasing past bargaining positions in [trade] negotiations." In light of the "plausibility of the [defendant's] contention that the Letter's release 'reasonably could be expected' to harm United States foreign relations," the court holds that the letter was properly classified and withheld under Exemption 1.
- In camera review: In denying the plaintiff's request for in camera review, the court holds that "the language of the [defendant's] declaration is specific enough to place the Letter within the exemption claimed, and that [the plaintiff's] allegations of bad faith are unfounded." The court explains that the declaration "identifies several discrete topics" that "reasonably fall under the category of information that may damage 'foreign relations.'" Therefore, the court finds it "plausible that the [defendant] also concluded that disclosure of that information would result in damage to the relations of the United States and the United Kingdom." Finally, the court holds that the plaintiff's allegations of bad faith "simply detail a delayed (albeit heavily) response, which [is] insufficient evidence of agency bad faith."