Judicial Watch, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 13-01344, 2014 WL 4178291 (D.D.C. Aug. 22, 2014) (Leon, J.)
Re: Request for records related to settlement discussions in Committee on Oversight and Government Reform v. Holder
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
- Exemption 3: The court holds that "the withholding of those documents was clearly proper." The court first notes that "D.C. Local Rule 84.9 states that the District Court 'prohibits the mediator, all counsel and parties and any other persons attending the mediation from disclosing any written or oral communications made in connection with or during any mediation session.'" "Plaintiff argues, however, that because the responsive documents were created before the parties were formally ordered into mediation by Judge Jackson, Local Rule 84.9 does not apply." The court finds that "it strains credulity for plaintiff to argue that these communications were not 'made in connection' with mediation, given that the parties were strongly encouraged to engage in settlement discussions, and were reminded that court-ordered mediation might be ordered at any time." The court holds that "[p]laintiff's narrow interpretation of Local Rule 84.9's applicability is simply inconsistent with both the case law and the purpose of the Rule." Second, the court holds that "[e]ven assuming, arguendo, that Local Rule 84.9 does not apply, however, DOJ did not abuse its discretion in refusing to disclose the responsive settlement communications because it was honoring a court-imposed restriction, and thus there 'simply [was] no discretion for the agency to exercise.'" The court notes that there is "an explicit statement from Judge Jackson instructing the parties to keep the substance of their settlement discussions private, . . . extrinsic evidence that the parties believed there was a court-imposed restriction prohibiting the disclosure of the substance of their settlement negotiations, . . . and a court rule prohibiting the disclosure of 'any written or oral communications made in connection with or during any mediation session.'" Therefore, the court holds that "[b]ased on the above, there can be no doubt that there was a valid court-imposed restriction prohibiting disclosure of confidential settlement communications between the parties."