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The Hum. Rts. Def. Ctr. v. DHS, No. 18-1141, 2021 WL 1264003 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 6, 2021) (Zilly, J.)


The Hum. Rts. Def. Ctr. v. DHS, No. 18-1141, 2021 WL 1264003 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 6, 2021) (Zilly, J.)

Re:  Request for certain records concerning litigation against ICE from January 1, 2010 until March 20, 2018

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

  • Exemption 6:  The court finds that "[i]n this case, the litigants whose names have been redacted from the Settlement have a cognizable privacy interest in maintaining the status quo."  "That is to say, settling an action based on allegations that ICE employees wrongfully detained U.S. citizens is stigmatizing to both the claimants and the tortfeasors, as both could be subjected to lifelong embarrassment or disgrace."  "The privacy interests at issue here, however, have been diminished for at least two reasons."  "First, their names are publicly available on the underlying case docket report, which includes much of the stigmatizing information – i.e., the allegations set forth in the complaint, as opposed to the fact of settlement."  "The Settlement itself provides that '[t]he parties agree that this [Settlement], including all terms and conditions . . . , may be made public in their entirety, and the plaintiff expressly consents to such release and disclosure pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b).'"  "Second, at least with respect to the ICE employees named in the Settlement, the alleged 'misfeasance relating to their official duties' further diminishes any privacy interest in nondisclosure."  "On the other side of the scale, Plaintiffs point out that 'the public has a strong interest in knowing exactly which [ICE] officials were involved in any allegedly wrongful act of detention, as alleged in the lawsuit that led to the payment of public funds disclosed in the Settlement.'"  "Balancing the litigants' diminished privacy interests against the significant interests in public disclosure, the Court concludes that revealing the litigants' names in the Settlement would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, as required under Exemption 6."
  • Exemption 7, Threshold & Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that "Defendants also rely on Exemption 7(C) to justify the withholding of the names in the Settlement."  First, the court relates that "Defendants argue that Exemption 7(C) applies to the Settlement because it relates to 'ICE's investigation leading to the detention and ICE's duty to enforce the immigration laws.'"  "The Court rejects such a broad reading of the phrase 'compiled for law enforcement purposes.'"  "Nevertheless, the Court concludes that the Settlement satisfies Exemption 7(C)’s threshold requirement, albeit for a slightly different reason."  "The Court is satisfied that the Settlement relates to any files associated with the ICE employees named in the Settlement, or files associated with any potential inquiry into their conduct – conduct which gave rise to the civil lawsuit filed against them."

    Regarding the Exemption 7(C) interests at issue, the court finds that "[f]irst, the existence of the Settlement provides at least some evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the ICE employees named in the underlying case and Settlement."  "Second, for the reasons described in [the Exemption 6 discussion] above, there is a significant public interest in disclosing the identities of the ICE employees, thereby allowing [plaintiff] to assess whether the employees are repeat offenders, whether their conduct has resulted in other expenditures of public funds, or whether they are still employed by ICE."  Additionally, the court finds that "the stigmatizing information is already publicly available."  "Nor is the Court persuaded by Defendants' argument that the fact that ICE employees settled exposes them to even more stigma."  "On balance, the Court concludes that the litigants' privacy interests in this matter do not outweigh the public's interest in disclosure, and that the disclosure thus could not reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy."
  • Litigation Considerations:  The court relates that "Plaintiffs do not argue that ICE has a pattern or practice of unreasonable delays."  "Rather, Plaintiffs argue that 'the agency's dilatory response is an egregious violation of FOIA.'"  "The Court disagrees."  "Not once did ICE altogether fail to respond to [plaintiff's] FOIA request."  "Although the parties have spent the last three years disputing the proper scope of the FOIA request and what information may be withheld, the Court is unwilling to conclude that ICE's delays were unreasonable, let alone 'egregious.'"  "The Court instead concludes, given that the relevant facts are undisputed, any technical delay on ICE's part was reasonable as a matter of law."
  • Attorney Fees:  The court finds that "[b]ecause Plaintiffs have 'substantially prevailed' in this matter by obtaining relief through this Order and ICE's earlier change in position, the Court awards Plaintiffs their reasonable fees and costs."  "Plaintiffs are directed to file any motion for attorneys' fees and costs within thirty (30) days of this Order."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Exemption 7(C)
Litigation Considerations, Supplemental to Main Categories
Updated April 30, 2021