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Ctr. for the Study of Servs. v. HHS, No. 16-5296, 874 F.3d 287 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (Randolph, S. C. J.)


Ctr. for the Study of Servs. v. HHS, No. 16-5296, 874 F.3d 287 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (Randolph, S. C. J.)

Re:  Requests for data concerning insurance plans that would be offered on new healthcare exchanges

Disposition:  Reversing and remanding district court's grant of requester's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Relief:  "[B]ecause the district court erred in issuing a permanent injunction, [the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] reverse[s] the order granting prospective relief."  The court relates that "[t]he government does not challenge the district court's determination that Exemption 4 was inapplicable to the information requested[.]"  "Rather, it challenges the district court's order requiring release of such information 'each year,' . . . which it contends 'essentially gives [the requester] "automatic access"' to data without even requiring [the requester] to file a FOIA request."  The court finds that "[t]he district court made no finding that the agency was adhering to a policy or practice that it acknowledged as impermissible[.]"  "Neither did the court find the agency was likely, in the face of its ruling that Exemption 4 was inapplicable, to continue on that basis to impair [the requester's] lawful access to the information in the future[.]"  "Nor did the court find that the agency invoked Exemption 4 solely for purposes of delay, effectively flaunting the statutory scheme, much less that its invocation was frivolous on its face."  The court finds that, "[a]lthough the district court's equitable powers are broad, . . . this court has required, even in the face of conceded agency recalcitrance in complying with FOIA, that the district court address, in determining whether injunctive relief would be appropriate, the likelihood of continued delinquent conduct by the agency[.]"  "A government defendant is presumed to adhere to the law declared by the court."  "The government represents here that in responding to [the requester's] future requests for such data it would not assert the grounds that the district court rejected . . . and thus that issuance of a declaration that the agency had violated FOIA, or an order directing the agency to release the requested plan-year data, would have been sufficient to ensure [the requester's] lawful access to benefits information and to avoid the prospect of relitigating the same controversy for future years."

    Senior Circuit Judge Randolph, "join[ing] the majority opinion in full, [writes separately to] emphasiz[e] that although equitable remedies are discretionary, they are not left to the district court's 'inclination, but to its judgment; and its judgment is to be guided by sound legal principles.'"  "In FOIA cases, one such principle demands that '[a]s with any equity case, the nature of the violation determines the scope of the remedy.'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
Court of Appeals opinions
Litigation Considerations, Relief
Updated December 8, 2021