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Chiquita Brands Int'l Inc. v. SEC, No. 14-5030, 2015 WL 4385618 (D.C. Cir. July 17, 2015) (Griffith, J.)


Chiquita Brands Int'l Inc. v. SEC, No. 14-5030, 2015 WL 4385618 (D.C. Cir. July 17, 2015) (Griffith, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning payments made to paramilitary groups in Colombia by subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International

Disposition: Affirming district court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7(B):  The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agrees with the District Court that defendant correctly determined that Exemption 7(B) was not applicable.  The court first explains that plaintiff "asks [the court] to disregard the phrase 'fair trial' and focus instead on Exemption 7(B)'s protection of an 'impartial adjudication.'"  The court "think[s] that the phrase 'impartial adjudication' as it appears in the statute refers to determinations made by administrative agencies, not to pretrial decisions issued by a judge."  By extension, the court finds that "[plaintiff] is wrong to urge that a slight advantage conferred on a party in a single phase of a case necessarily threatens the fairness of the trial."  More fundamentally, the court holds that "[t]he Commission properly disposed of [plaintiff's] arguments on the ground that the company could not show how disclosure would matter in the big picture and impact the fairness of a future trial."  The court finds that "the Commission reasonably applied Exemption 7(B) and concluded that disclosure of the records to the Archive will not 'seriously interfere with the fairness' of the . . . proceedings [in which plaintiff is involved]."  The court finds that "[plaintiff] erroneously rested on the legal theory that it simply had to show the documents sought are presently unavailable to the . . . plaintiffs [in the related case], without showing how releasing those records now would impair the fairness of a future trial."  The court warns that "Exemption 7(B) is not a tool to protect reputation and privacy interests unless the damage disclosure might pose to such interests is likely to impact the ultimate fairness of a trial."
  • Reverse FOIA:  The court also rejects plaintiff's argument "that the Commission's decision was nonetheless defective … because the agency failed to explain the rationale underlying its decision, and the reasons it offers now do not appear in the administrative record."  Citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80 (1943), the court explains that "'[a]lthough it is axiomatic that [the court] may uphold agency orders based only on reasoning that is fairly stated by the agency in the order under review . . . the contested decision need not be a model of clarity.'"  The court holds that "[t]he Commission's decision clears that low bar . . . [and] Chenery does not bar an agency's counsel from merely elaborating on the consistent stance the agency articulated below."  
Court Decision Topic(s)
Court of Appeals opinions
Exemption 7(B)
Reverse FOIA
Updated January 12, 2022