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Humane Soc'y Int'l v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., No. 16-720, 2019 WL 3842309 (D.D.C. Aug. 15, 2019) (Kelly, J.)


Humane Soc'y Int'l v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., No. 16-720, 2019 WL 3842309 (D.D.C. Aug. 15, 2019) (Kelly, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning import and export of wildlife maintained in Law Enforcement Management Information System

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

  • Exemption 4:  The court notes that "the parties' briefing on Exemption 4 focuses on the National Parks test, as it was the controlling law when they filed their briefs."  "And, on the current record, the Court cannot determine how the factors in the new Food Marketing Institute test apply to these withholdings."  "The Court will therefore deny without prejudice [plaintiff's] and Defendants' motions for summary judgment on Exemption 4 so that the parties may brief the issue in light of Food Marketing Institute."
  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  "The Court concludes that the records at issue in [the Law Enforcement Management Information System ("LEMIS")] were compiled for law enforcement purposes within the meaning of Exemption 7(C)."  "FWS represents that LEMIS is 'utilized by all FWS law enforcement offices' and 'serves as the portal in which all FWS [violations of wildlife regulations] are documented and intelligence is gathered and shared between law enforcement offices across the country.'"  "LEMIS also houses data related to all declared 'imports and exports of wildlife products,' which enables FWS to use the database to both identify and proactively prevent violations of its regulations."  "And FWS uses information on the declared monetary value of wildlife products 'to verify compliance with the reported [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] values at the time of import and export and to help determine appropriate monetary penalties for violations.'"  "For these reasons, the records at issue in LEMIS have a 'rational nexus' to FWS's duty to enforce laws governing the import and export of wildlife products."
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that, "[b]ecause Defendants have established that individual importers and exporters have a privacy interest in their names, and [plaintiff] has not established a public interest in disclosure sufficient to outweigh their privacy interest, disclosure of their names 'could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"  The court relates that "FWS withheld the names of individuals listed in the 'U.S. Importer/Exporter' column and the 'Foreign Importer/Exporter' column of the Form 3-177s maintained in LEMIS to protect individuals' privacy."  The court finds that "[t]hese individuals have an interest in keeping their names from being disclosed to the public alongside the details of their private activity importing or exporting wildlife."  "And that interest is 'at its apex' here, where the government has compiled information about private citizens."  The court relates that "[plaintiff] argues that the privacy interest is at most de minimis, in part because hunters (including members of SCI) 'have voluntarily chosen to engage in the highly regulated activity of international trophy hunting.'"  "But simply because these individuals have decided to engage in a regulated activity does not mean they have no privacy interest in the information they must provide the government in connection with that activity."  "Because Defendants have identified a privacy interest in these individuals' names, the Court must next determine whether [plaintiff] has 'establish[ed] a sufficient reason for the disclosure.'"  The court finds that "[plaintiff']s speculation on this score is insufficient."  "HSI advances no 'particular showing' of credible evidence of misfeasance on FWS's part in enforcing the laws related to wildlife imports and exports."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 4
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Updated January 7, 2022