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Gatson v. FBI, No. 17-3122, 2019 WL 3451182 (3d Cir. July 31, 2019) (per curiam)


Gatson v. FBI, No. 17-3122, 2019 WL 3451182 (3d Cir. July 31, 2019) (per curiam)

Re:  Request for records concerning requester, his confederates, various FBI Special Agents, and requester's cellmates

Disposition:  Affirming district court's grant of government's motion for summary judgment; denial of requester's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration & Exemption 7(A):  The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit holds that "nothing about the FBI's use of categorical instead of document-by-document analysis and presentation suggests that the District Court lacked an adequate factual basis on which to rule."  "As a preliminary matter, [the court] observe that 'a Vaughn index generally is not required for withholding under' Exemption 7A."  "Rather, the defendant may submit a public affidavit describing in sufficient detail the categories of records withheld and the bases for the withholding."  'That is what the FBI did here."  The court finds that "[the government's] description of the information withheld from the partially disclosed records, together with (1) his explanations for any redactions, (2) the very fact that the withholding was partial, and (3) the amenability of all of that information to construction of a basic Vaughn index (constructed in the margin to illuminate as much), leaves [the court] satisfied that there is sufficient '"connective tissue" between the document[s], the deletion[s], the exemption[s] and the explanation[s],' . . . by the FBI for the District Court to have adequately assessed the exemption claims related to those particular records."  "The same goes for the records withheld in full."  "[The] categories, either facially or through detailed explanation by Hardy, plainly provided the District Court with ample information to assess the applicability of Exemption 7A, including an inquiry as to whether disclosure would interfere with the then-pending criminal prosecution of [the requester]."  "[The government] further explained that all of the responsive records could be assigned to one or more of the following three 'functional' categories: (1) 'Evidentiary/Investigative Materials,' (2) 'Administrative Materials,' and (3) 'Public Source/Non-Investigative Harm Materials.'"  "The first two categories, as defined in the [government's] declaration, readily fit the Exemption 7A paradigm."  "And responsive records falling in the third functional category all were produced to [the requester]."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit holds that "[plaintiff] offers nothing but conjecture to suggest that the FBI did not segregate non-exempt material."  "In fact, [the government] relayed that '[e]very effort was made to provide plaintiff with all material in the public domain and with all reasonably segregable, non-exempt information in the responsive records . . . .'"  The court finds that "conjecture is not enough to rebut [the] presumption ["'that [it] complied with the obligation to disclose reasonably segregable material'"]."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Court of Appeals opinions
Exemption 7(A)
Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated January 7, 2022