Inst. for Justice v. IRS, No. 16-02406, 2018 WL 4680275 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2018) (McFadden, J.)

Date: 
Friday, September 28, 2018

Inst. for Justice v. IRS, No. 16-02406, 2018 WL 4680275 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2018) (McFadden, J.)

Re:  Request for "'database dump'" from IRS Asset Forfeiture Tracking and Retrieval System (AFTRAK), which monitors seized assets

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

  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  "The IRS generated a comprehensive report that revealed every possible data point on seized assets in the AFTRAK system during the relevant timeframe, thereby conducting a 'search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant [records].'"  "This satisfies FOIA's search requirements."  Regarding plaintiff's alternative argument, the court finds that "[b]ecause the IRS located every record that [plaintiff] requested, there is no need to resolve the technical question of whether AFTRAK is or is not a database."  "But if pressed, the Court would be inclined to defer to the IRS's answer, not [plaintiff's] guess or cherry-picked quotes plucked from random government documents."
     
  • Exemption 7(A):  The court holds that, "[a]ll in all, the IRS has established that releasing data about assets seized in open investigations 'could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.'"  "First, the IRS has satisfied its obligation to withhold information in a categorical manner for assets seized in open investigations."  "All 'open' assets is a functional category:  there is a rational link between seizures in open investigations and potential interference."  "Second, [plaintiff] fails to give any specific examples of columns that the IRS allegedly should have segregated and released."
     
  • Exemptions 6 & 7(C):  The court holds that, "[a]s to the Program Area and SEACATS Number columns, the IRS easily establishes the applicability of Exemption 7(C)."  "[Defendant] explains that 'information in the Program Area column could reveal that the individual was being investigated for some type of fraud, general or corporate, or for terrorism.'"  "'Because the SEACATS Number is assigned by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, not the [IRS] . . . a search of the public record based on that number could also enable someone to identify the individual that is or was a target of the criminal investigation or other law enforcement action by that agency.'"
Topic: 
Adequacy of Search
District Court
Exemption 6
Exemption 7A
Exemption 7C
Procedural
Updated January 31, 2019