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Lewis v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, No. 20-0494, 2022 WL 2905497 (D. Md. July 21, 2022) (Chuang, J.)


Lewis v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, No. 20-0494, 2022 WL 2905497 (D. Md. July 21, 2022) (Chuang, J.)

Re:  Requests for records concerning plaintiff’s prior federal employment

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendants’ motion to dismiss

  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal & Relief; Attorney Fees:  The court holds that “[b]ecause the parties agree that the VA has produced the relevant documents and no other merits-based relief is available to [plaintiff], the FOIA claim against the VA is moot.”  “Nevertheless, [the court relates that plaintiff] argues that the VA’s prior redactions based on FOIA exemptions were made ‘improperly or arbitrarily’ and that she thus ‘should be compensated for having to use a federal lawsuit to obtain these records.’”  The court holds that “money damages are not available under the FOIA.”  Additionally, the court holds that “[t]o the extent that [plaintiff] seeks attorney’s fees and other litigation costs under 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(4)(E)(i) . . . a request for attorney’s fees is separate from the merits of an action and will not be considered at this time.”  “In any event, the Court notes that as a general matter, ‘a pro se non-attorney may not recover attorney fees’ under FOIA, so any such request would fail.”
  • Exemption 6 & Exemption 7(C):  The court relates that “[the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”)] submitted the relevant documents to the Court for in camera review, which the Court has conducted.”  “The withheld or redacted documents all relate to two complaints submitted by [plaintiff] to TIGTA alleging misconduct by an IRS employee and the subsequent investigation conducted by TIGTA.”  “Based on its review, the Court concludes that the withheld information can be separated into three categories of information: (1) personally identifiable information (‘PII’) related to the IRS employee, including the employee’s home address, specific title, duty station, social security number, date of birth, age, and gender; (2) descriptions of the alleged violations; and (3) administrative information relating to the complaints, including the internal tracking numbers for the complaints, information on the processing and status of the investigation at various times, and general instructions on how a TIGTA investigator should complete a standard complaint referral memorandum.”  “As to the first category of information, the Court finds that the privacy interest of the IRS employee in the PII outweighs any relevant public interest in disclosure.”  “Government employees have ‘a substantial interest in the nondisclosure of their identities and their connection with particular investigations because of the potential for future harassment, annoyance, or embarrassment.’”  “Though TIGTA did not redact the name of the employee subject to investigation, . . . the Court finds that disclosure of the PII would encroach on the employee’s privacy interest without shedding any light on TIGTA’s carrying out of its investigation into [plaintiff’s] complaints.”  “As for the second category, descriptions of the alleged violations, the Court finds that such information is also properly withheld under these exemptions.”  “Where the allegations were not necessarily proven or the subject of a finding of misconduct, disclosure at this point could reasonably be expected to impose an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy because the records would connect the employee to a particular investigation and provide information about the allegations at issue.”  “Although other records disclosed by TIGTA in response to the same request may provide the same information, the fact that the information may already be available to the public does not provide a basis to require disclosure.”  “As for the third category of information, consisting of internal tracking numbers, information on the administrative processing and status of the complaint and investigation, and standard form instructions, [the court finds that] a review of the documents reveals that these entries do not disclose any of the substance of the allegations against the employee and therefore do not implicate the same privacy interests.”  “At the same time, this information may shed light on the agency’s commitment to processing internal complaints.”  “In light of the public interest in understanding how TIGTA carries out its investigations into complaints and the minimal privacy interest implicated by this information, the Court finds on balance that disclosure of this category of information would not constitute ‘a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy’ or an ‘unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(C)
Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal
Updated August 18, 2022