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Insider, Inc. v. GSA, No. 21-02653, 2022 WL 10449605 (D.D.C. Oct. 18, 2022) (McFadden, J.)


Insider, Inc. v. GSA, No. 21-02653, 2022 WL 10449605 (D.D.C. Oct. 18, 2022) (McFadden, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning President Trump and Vice President Pence’s 2020 transition teams

Disposition:  Granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 6:  The court relates that defendant “withheld some [transition] team members’ names under FOIA Exemption 6.”  The court finds that “[t]he names are in ‘similar files’ and their ‘disclosure . . . would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’”  The court explains that “‘[t]he Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “similar files” to include all information that applies to a particular individual.’”  “Thus, the names on the spreadsheets fit the first requirement.”  “[Plaintiff] does not dispute this.”  The court finds that “GSA carries its burden [regarding privacy interests], too.”  “For one, other transition staff have been harassed and threatened.”  “Nor have they publicly advertised their positions.”  Additionally, the court finds that “[u]nder FOIA, the team members are neither high nor low-level government employees.”  “And private citizens, like low-level government employees, have a heightened privacy interest.”  Regarding the public interest, the court relates that “[plaintiff’s] theory is simple: Presidential transitions are important and thus the public has a significant interest in knowing who helps run them.”  “The Court is unconvinced.”  “Disclosing transition staffs’ names, alone, tells the public almost nothing about what GSA is up to.”  “GSA does not hire transition teams.”  “Nor does it decide their pay or job duties.”  “And GSA is not the staffs’ employer.”  “It merely supports transition teams by paying their staff and helping with their administrative needs.”  The court finds that “[a]ny public interest here is light.”  “In contrast, the privacy interest weighs heavy.”  “Thus, the team members’ significant privacy interests outweigh any slight ‘incremental value’ of disclosing five more names.”

    Additionally, the court finds that “GSA has also satisfied its duty to explain the harm that would flow from disclosure.”  “[Plaintiff] contacted and then wrote about other team members after GSA disclosed their names.”  “And transition team members have faced threats in the past.”  “Based on these uncontradicted facts, the Court finds that GSA has ‘articulate[d], in a focused and concrete way, the harm that would result from disclosure, including the basis and likelihood of that harm.’”
  • Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements:  The court relates that “GSA explains that it redacted only the names on the salary spreadsheet.”  “After reviewing the redacted spreadsheets, the Court is satisfied that GSA has reasonably segregated the exempt information.”  “And [plaintiff] does not contest this either.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated November 28, 2022