Levinthal v. FEC, No. 15-01624, 2016 WL 6902111 (D.D.C. Nov. 23, 2016) (Mehta, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning study that assesses vulnerabilities in information technology systems
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
- Exemption 7(E): The court holds that the study was properly withheld under Exemption 7(E). First, the court finds that "the . . . Study meets the rational 'nexus' requirement because a federal agency, like the Commission, cannot effectively carry out its law enforcement function unless it has a secure and reliable IT system." Further, "[t]he . . . Study in turn was designed to promote the integrity of that system and thus itself serves a law enforcement function." Second, the court finds that "there is a connection between the . . . Study and a possible security risk or violation of federal law." The court relates that defendant "asserts that 'information contained in the . . . Study could be used to gain unlawful access to the Commission's technology systems, obtain and manipulate sensitive and confidential data about candidates, officeholders, party committees, and others who interact with the Commission, or obtain and manipulate data stored within the Commission's systems regarding [Commission] enforcement matters.'" Responding to plaintiff's argument, the court also finds that "records do not have to be linked to a specific investigation to be properly withheld under Exemption 7(E)."
- Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: The court holds that defendant's "[d]eclaration provides a 'detailed justification' for the Commission's decision that no part of the . . . Report is segregable, and Plaintiffs have not offered any evidence to the contrary." The court relates that "[d]efendant also invokes FOIA Exemption 5 to withhold the . . . Study." The court also relates that "[p]laintiffs do not contest the applicability of the deliberative process privilege to the . . . Study." "Instead, they challenge whether Defendant has satisfied its duty to segregate and produce non-exempt factual material." The court finds that "[defendant's] Declaration clearly establishes that the factual portions of the . . . Study are 'inextricably intertwined' with its deliberative elements." "It also sets forth with 'reasonable specificity' why those factual portions cannot be segregated."