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Henderson v. ODNI, No. 15-103, 2016 WL 755608 (D.D.C. Feb. 25, 2016) (Walton J.)


Henderson v. ODNI, No. 15-103, 2016 WL 755608 (D.D.C. Feb. 25, 2016) (Walton J.)

Re: Request for December 2012 Federal Investigative Standards

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court holds that "[t]he defendants have amply demonstrated . . . a 'rational nexus' between the background investigation techniques and each agency's responsibility to prevent potential bad actors from obtaining security clearances and access to government technologies and facilities, and a 'connection' between potential bad actors and the risk of a breach of security."  "The Court disagrees with the plaintiff’s contention that Exemption 7(E) should be limited in scope to records compiled for criminal purposes only."  "As this Circuit has recognized, '[t]he term 'law enforcement' in Exemption 7 refers to the act of enforcing the law, both civil and criminal.'"  The court finds that the records "at issue here 'were compiled . . . to provide consistent background investigation standards for investigations of individuals working for, or on behalf of, the executive branch or who seek to perform work for, or on behalf of, the executive branch, as well as for individuals who would access federally controlled facilities and information systems.'"  The court holds that these records "were undoubtedly compiled for law enforcement purposes."
  • Exemption 7(E):  "The Court . . . concludes that the defendants properly withheld [this] information . . . pursuant to Exemption 7(E)."  "The Court finds the defendants' explanation more than sufficient to establish 'the chance of a reasonably expected risk' should the withheld information be disclosed."  The court finds that "defendants have demonstrated 'logically how the release of the requested information might create a risk of circumvention of the law.'"  The court also notes that "plaintiff expressly concedes that the outcome of this case is settled by [Morley v. CIA] . . . which unequivocally stated that '[i]t is self-evident that information revealing security clearance procedures could render those procedures vulnerable and weaken their effectiveness at uncovering background information on potential candidates.'"
  • Procedural Requirements, "Reasonably Segregable" Obligation:  "[T]he Court finds that the defendants have satisfied their segregability obligation under the FOIA."  The court notes that "defendants state that they conducted a line-by-line review of the FIS on two occasions and released portions of the FIS deemed to be non-exempt."  "[T]he Court is not persuaded by the plaintiff's contention that, merely because the defendants released additional information from the FIS after their initial decision to withhold the entire document . . . the defendants' representations regarding segregability at this juncture are insufficient."
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  "[T]he Court, in its discretion, denies the plaintiff's request for an in camera review of the records or information withheld by the defendants."  The court finds that "[defendants'] Declarations explain in sufficient detail the contents of the information withheld under Exemption 7(E) and the reasons why disclosure would risk circumvention of the law."  The court relates that it "is able to compare each of the explanations made in the defendants' declarations with the specific subparagraph withheld such that the withholdings can be assessed in context."  Additionally, responding to plaintiff's arguments, the court finds that "[c]ontrary to demonstrating bad faith, the Court views the defendants' subsequent productions of additional information as an effort to balance their disclosure obligations under the FOIA, by disclosing as much information as possible, with the risks identified in their declarations."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Procedural Requirements, “Reasonably Segregable” Obligation
Updated January 21, 2022