Hyatt v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, No. 18-234, 2018 WL 4682020 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2018) (Lamberth, J.)
Re: Request for one specific email
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; denying defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, "Agency Records": "[T]he Court finds that the totality of the circumstances here weigh in favor of the . . . email being an agency record for FOIA purposes." "The . . . email is part of a brief email exchange between two agency employees, on an agency system, inspired by an article concerning the particular individual whose applications these examiners were dedicated, full-time, to examining." "Contrary to the PTO's assertion, the fact that the creation and reading of the email thread may have been outside the scope of the sending and receiving examiners’ employment with the agency is not dispositive as to whether the email is an agency record." "Such a rule would, for example, hinder a FOIA requester's ability to uncover fraud, waste, or abuse in government agencies."
- Exemption 6: The Court rejects defendant's assertion of Exemption 6 to protect the email. "Although the Court is confident that [the author of the email], like the PTO, would rather her email not be released, she does not have a 'strong privacy interest' tied to its contents." The court finds that the author "does not give an opinion about divorce or other matter personal to her in the email; rather, she relates an opinion about her charge." Second, the court finds that "there is a cognizable public interest associated with the release of this email" as it "does contribute to the public’s understanding about a specific unit within the PTO." Further, while "gossip amongst colleagues is natural and even normal, such exchanges between public servants are not per se shielded from disclosure merely because their employing agency considers them to be insignificant."