Investigative report of U.S. Navy A-7E Corsair II jet that crashed into an apartment complex in Alameda, CA on February 7, 1973
Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Adequacy of Search: The court finds that the defendant's search for the missing requested material was reasonable. The court first notes that plaintiff's "FOIA request only asked for 'a copy of the final investigative report,'" and defendant searched for two documents which could fall into this definition. Additionally, defendant attempted to locate one of the requested documents which was missing, but the documents "were, at the time, almost forty years old and had been relocated at least once each." Defendant located one of the two documents and the court finds that under these circumstances, defendant's efforts to locate the missing document were reasonable.
- Exemption 5, Other Privileges: The court finds that witness statements and opinions of those involved in the evaluation of the crash fell under the special privilege protecting witness statements generated during Air Force aircraft accident investigations (the Machin privilege) and therefore were appropriately withheld under Exemption 5. "Accordingly, any information from private parties was privileged, even once in the hands of the government." The court also note that “'[t]he privilege extends to any conclusions that might be based in any fashion on such privileged information . . . [and] [a]lso . . . attaches to any portions of the report reflecting Air Force deliberations or recommendations as to policies that should be pursued.'" The court notes that the policy reason for this privilege is "[t]o encourage witnesses to speak fully and frankly."
- Exemption 6: The court finds that the defendant correctly withheld "'[n]ames, signatures, initials, addresses, telephone numbers, individuals squadrons or units, social security numbers, and similar information pertaining to board members, evaluators, endorsers, and individuals other than the pilot involved in the mishap.'" The court notes that the FOIA's "purpose in holding governmental action accountable to the people 'is not fostered by disclosure of information about private citizens that is accumulated in various governmental files but that reveals little or nothing about an agency's own conduct.'"