Ludlam v. U.S. Peace Corps, No. 11-1570, 2013 WL 1289865 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2013) (Sullivan, J.)

Date: 
Friday, March 29, 2013
Re: Request for results of surveys of Peace Corps volunteers for specified years Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment in part
  • Waiver/Public Domain: The court holds that "plaintiff's waiver argument fails because he has not shown that the withheld responses match any information already in the public domain.  He argues only that the questions contained in the 2009 and 2010 [surveys] are substantially identical to the questions in the 2008 survey.  However, as defendant notes, it is the responses to the surveys that plaintiff seeks, not the questions. . . . Considering that the responses to the later surveys were provided by a different group of volunteers, regarding their experiences during a different time period, the responses will not be identical to those provided in 2008."  In addition, the court notes that "plaintiff has not shown that Peace Corps officials were authorized to, or did, release 2009 or 2010 survey results to the general public outside the agency."
  • Exemption 6: As an initial matter, the court determines that only "the first category of questions withheld – those related to staff ratings" meet the threshold requirement of Exemption 6.  These positions are "'typically filled by one person or a few at most.'"  On the other hand, questions relating to insensitive comments or behavior from host families and community members as well as discrimination and harassment include a large number of individuals.   "The bare assertion that a specific individual 'may easily [be] identif[ied],' unsupported by any information such as the number of Volunteers in any country or program, the typical size of the host families with whom Volunteers stay, or the size of the communities or workplaces in which Volunteers are placed, is simply not enough for the agency to meet its burden to demonstrate that the exemption applies."  With regard to the staff ratings, the court "concludes that there is a significant public interest in disclosure of the responses to questions regarding staff performance."  "The 2011 Amendments to the Peace Corps Act make clear that the Agency's mission includes protecting the safety and security of the Volunteers, as well as ensuring that Peace Corps personnel are effectively managing the agency's operations at a country by country level."  "These are precisely the concerns addressed in the AVS [Annual Volunteer Survey] questions relating to staff performance."  Weighing the privacy interest in the staff ratings against the public interest, the court holds that release of the information concerning the staff ratings "would not 'constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"
  • Exemption 5: The court denies the Peace Corps' assertion of Exemption 5 and the deliberative process privilege.  The court finds that "[t]o permit the [d]efendant to assert the deliberative process privilege for every piece of information which could be used, in some way or another, in the continuous process of improving the Agency would set virtually no limit on the privilege."  The court comments that it is puzzled "as to why the withheld information constitutes pre-decisional deliberations connected to an agency policy or action, while the other responses in the same documents are not."  Noting that the Peace Corps has failed to "identify 'what deliberative process is involved and the role played by the documents at issue in the course of that process,'" the court finds that the responses to the surveys were not properly withheld under Exemption 5.
  • Segregability:  Although the plaintiff does not dispute that all reasonably segregable information was produced, the court determines that it must make specific findings regarding segregability.  The court notes that it has reviewed the documents and "[i]t appears that defendants have redacted only what was necessary to protect the exempt information, and defendants are not withholding any documents in full."  "Accordingly, the [c]ourt finds that all segregable information in the program-by-program results of the 2009 and 2010 AVS has been disclosed to plaintiff."
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 5
Exemption 6
Public Domain
Segregability
Waiver
Updated August 6, 2014