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Ctr. for Med. Progress v. HHS, No. 21-642, 2023 WL 5007881 (D.D.C. Aug. 7, 2023) (Howell, J.)


Ctr. for Med. Progress v. HHS, No. 21-642, 2023 WL 5007881 (D.D.C. Aug. 7, 2023) (Howell, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning grant application submitted by University of Pittsburgh to serve as the “‘GUDMAP Tissue Hub and Collection Site’ for NIH’s subcomponent, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (“NIDDK”)”

Disposition:  Denying plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment; granting defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 6:  The court holds that “the government’s invocation of FOIA Exemption 6 . . . is proper.”  The court relates that “Plaintiff contests the invocation of FOIA Exemption 6 to redact the names of two NIH employees with the titles ‘Program Official’ and ‘Grants Management Specialist,’ respectively.”  First, the court finds that, “[c]orrectly, nowhere does plaintiff dispute that the two NIH employee names requested qualify as ‘similar file[s].’”  “Indeed, the names, job titles, location of tissue procurement sites, and other identifying information of University of Pittsburgh employees, names and identifying information of third parties supporting the grant, and names and identifying information of clients who wrote letters in support of the grant are ‘bits of personal information,’ . . . that ‘appl[y] to . . . particular individual[s],’ . . . .”  “Thus, Exemption 6 may be triggered.”

    Regarding the name of the “‘NIH Program Official,’” the court finds that “[g]iven the lack of official public disclosure of the name of the ‘Program Official’ and the great privacy interest in protecting that individual’s identity, FOIA Exemption 6 is properly invoked here and thus defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted as to the withholding of that name.”  The court finds that “the fact that the names of some individuals tied to the grant program are public does not justify disclosing more names simply on that basis.”  “Furthermore, any named individuals on the public website supposedly linked to the grant program do not support disclosure.”  “Information cited by plaintiff on does not fulfill that test because the website is privately managed and operated – claiming to be run by ‘data scientists based in Cleveland, OH USA who are scientifically trained with Ph.D. degrees in quantitative disciplines’ – and claiming to compile grant data available from NIH.”  “Nowhere on the website does the company purport to be an arm of the government, and plaintiff does not allege such.”  “On that ground alone, plaintiff fails to show that the public domain doctrine applies and thus discussion of the two additional requirements for official disclosure is unnecessary.”

    Regarding the “‘NIH Grants Management Specialist,’” the court finds that “the private interest in protecting the identity of the ‘NIH Grants Management Specialist’ outweighs the public interest and thus FOIA Exemption 6 properly withholds that information from disclosure.”  The court finds that “[t]he extremely limited public interest in the identity of the ‘NIH Grant Management Specialist’ is far outweighed by the private interest in protecting this individual from harassment and potential violence that could result from disclosing their name.”  “As previously discussed, plaintiff provided sufficient facts to illustrate that threat.”  “Moreover, plaintiff’s second attempt to assert that prior NIH disclosure of names of individuals connected to fetal tissue research justifies disclosure of more names that have thus far been protected similarly falls flat.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Updated September 7, 2023