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Goldstein v. Treasury Inspector Gen. for Tax Admin., No. 14-02189, 2016 WL 1180158 (D.D.C. Mar. 25, 2016) (Mehta, J.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Goldstein v. Treasury Inspector Gen. for Tax Admin., No. 14-02189, 2016 WL 1180158 (D.D.C. Mar. 25, 2016) (Mehta, J.)

Re: Request for tax records concerning plaintiff's father's estate

Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  "Based on the evidence presented by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)], the court cannot conclude, consistent with its obligation to conduct a de novo review, that the 457 pages in question[, which were withheld in full,] were 'compiled for law enforcement purposes.'"  The court explains that defendant's "conclusory statement tells the court nothing about the nature or purpose of the investigation."  "Nor does it enable the court to discern whether the alleged conduct, if proven true, would result in criminal or civil liability."  "Nor can the court assume from the mere fact that the documents at issue were maintained by TIGTA's Office of Investigation . . . that the responsive documents were compiled for law enforcement purposes."
  • Exemption 6:  "[T]he court concludes that the contents of TIGTA's investigative files in this case are exempt from disclosure under Exemption 6."  The court first notes that "[p]laintiff does not contest Defendant's assertion that the responsive records qualify as 'similar files' under Exemption 6."  "Nor does he challenge that the investigated employees have a substantial personal privacy interest in the records."  "Rather, Plaintiff focuses his response exclusively on the assertion that the public interest in the disclosure of the records outweighs the employees' substantial privacy interests."  Considering plaintiff's arguments, the court finds that "[t]o the extent Plaintiff argues that his mere status as a whistleblower entitles him to the responsive records, irrespective of the Exemption 6 balancing, . . . Plaintiff has cited no legal authority for that proposition."  Additionally, the court finds that plaintiff's "evidence, even taken together, amounts to little more than a 'bare suspicion,' . . . of government wrongdoing."  "Moreover, Plaintiff has not shown a likelihood that the documents he seeks would shed light on the asserted public interest in disclosure—the IRS' treatment of whistleblowers and its relationship with its Whistleblower Office."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  The court finds that defendant "states without 'detailed justification' but rather in 'conclusory' fashion that no responsive documents are segregable."  "That may be so, but the court needs more information before it is satisfied that the agency has carried out its duty."
  • Litigation Considerations, Summary Judgment:  "The court . . . declines to consider Plaintiff's challenge and enters summary judgment in favor of TIGTA with respect to the adequacy of the search."  The court relates that "[p]laintiff . . . did not challenge the adequacy of TIGTA's search in his opposition brief" and, "[i]nstead, . . . raised it for the first time in his reply brief in support of his cross-motion for summary judgment."  The court finds that "'[[i]]t is a well-settled prudential doctrine that courts generally will not entertain new arguments first raised in a reply brief.'"
District Court
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Litigation Considerations
Summary Judgment
Updated April 28, 2016