Knowles v. Dep't of State, No. 16-1450, 2018 WL 1542137 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2018) (Leon, J.)

Date: 
Thursday, March 29, 2018

Knowles v. Dep't of State, No. 16-1450, 2018 WL 1542137 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2018) (Leon, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning Bahamian authorities, DEA, and plaintiff

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "[T]he Court finds that defendant conducted adequate searches, and plaintiff has pointed to nothing in the record that raises 'substantial doubt' about those searches."  The court finds that "[defendant] has provided adequately detailed descriptions of each office's purpose, search methods, and search terms, and the results of the searches."
     
  • Exemption 1:  The court holds that "the State Department is entitled to summary judgment on its Exemption 1 withholdings."  The court relates that "[t]he State Department withheld in full a three-page cable dated September 1, 2006, sent from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, to the State Department 'regarding conversations between' officials of the two governments 'on a number of topics, including the extradition of [plaintiff].'"  "The State Department's declarant personally reviewed the document and 'determined that the information . . . continues to meet the classification criteria' of Executive Order 13526[.]"  "Although the document's original classification expired on June 6, 2014, it was reclassified 'as CONFIDENTIAL' on January 31, 2017, pursuant to 'Sections 1.4(b) and (d) of E.O. 13526,' which 'pertain to foreign government information and foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.'"  "According to the declarant, the release of the document 'could reasonably be expected' generally to strain relations with foreign governments in matters of confidentiality and, more specifically, 'undermine' the U.S. Government's 'future extradition efforts and damage bilateral relations with the Bahamas, whose cooperation is vital to U.S. national security and anti-drug trafficking efforts in the region.'"  "For similar reasons, the State Department withheld confidential portions of a three-page cable and a two-page cable it received from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau regarding plaintiff's extradition from the Bahamas to the United States . . . and classified portions of a two-page cable it received from the U.S. Embassy that discussed the dismissal of plaintiff's habeas corpus motion and plaintiff's extradition to the United States in August 2006[.]"  The court finds that "[t]he State Department has demonstrated that disclosure of the foregoing classified information is reasonably expected to cause damage to national security and has adequately described such damage."
     
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege, Attorney Work-Product & Attorney-Client Privilege:  The court holds that "[t]he State Department has properly justified withholding . . . documents in full under Exemption 5, as has the Criminal Division with regard to the referred documents."  First, the court finds that "[t]he State Department has shown that [certain] documents contained deliberative process material, which it properly withheld under FOIA Exemption 5."  The court relates that "[t]he State Department withheld under the deliberate process privilege a 'three-page draft issue paper' discussing the U.S. Government's 'anti-money laundering efforts with the cooperation of the Bahamian Government.'"  "The State Department's declarant explains that the withheld information in both the e-mail and draft issue paper 'is pre-decisional and deliberative' and if disclosed 'would reveal the details of the Department employees' preliminary thoughts and ideas on a foreign country's efforts to stop money laundering and could reasonably be expected to chill the open and frank expression of ideas, recommendations, and opinions that occur [during the process of] developing a preferred course of action.'"  Second, the court relates that "[t]he State Department's declarant notes that [other] withheld information contains an agency attorney's 'mental impressions, thought processes, and legal strategies regarding anti-money laundering efforts' that were created 'in reasonable anticipation of criminal litigation,' as well as 'communications' between a State Department attorney and other State Department officials for the 'purpose of seeking and/or providing legal advice regarding the extradition process.'"  The court finds that "[a]s the withheld records either involve materials (1) 'prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or by or for that other party’s representative (including the other party’s attorney[)]' or (2) containing 'confidential communications between attorneys and their clients,' the State Department properly invoked Exemption 5."  Third, the court relates that "[defendant] avers, among other things, that [other] withheld documents 'were prepared by or at the direction of an attorney in anticipation of the prosecution of plaintiff by U.S. authorities,' and contain 'analysis' and 'evaluations' of information and legal standards relevant to plaintiff's arrest, extradition and criminal charges."  The court finds that "[t]he Criminal Division . . . withheld all of the records under the 'attorney-work product privilege because they contain information constituting the legal analysis of DOJ attorneys, the DOJ prosecutors' theory of the case being investigated and evaluation of the evidence, and the OIA attorneys' assessments of facts and issues pertaining to the requests for arrest and extradition.'"
     
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that "defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the Exemption 7(C) withholdings."  The court relates that "[t]he State Department and the Criminal Division invoked Exemptions 6 and 7(C) together to justify the redaction of third-party identifying information, mostly the names of U.S. Government employees or officials."  The court notes that "Plaintiff 'concedes' that the requested records were 'compiled for law enforcement purposes.'"  The court notes that "[a]ll of the agency declarants considered the interests at stake and concluded that the individual privacy interests outweigh the public interest in disclosure."  The court finds that "the burden rests with plaintiff to establish a 'sufficient reason for the disclosure' of information that implicates privacy concerns, . . . and plaintiff's self-interest in the information adds no weight to the scales[.]"
     
  • Waiver:  Responding to plaintiff's argument "that some of the withheld third-party information is in the public domain[,]" the court finds that "Plaintiff . . . has not carried his burden of 'pointing to the specific information in the public domain that appears to duplicate that being withheld.'"
     
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "[T]he Court concludes that defendant released all reasonably segregable responsive records."  The court relates that "Defendant's declarations establish that all responsive records were reviewed with an eye toward releasing any non-exempt information and, where possible, such information was released."
Topic: 
Adequacy of Search
District Court
Exemption 1
Exemption 5
Exemption 7C
Litigation Considerations
Waiver
Updated July 2, 2018