Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Dep't of Interior, No. 13-942, 2014 WL 7003905 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 11, 2014) (Engelmayer, J.)

Date: 
Thursday, December 11, 2014

Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. Dep't of Interior, No. 13-942, 2014 WL 7003905 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 11, 2014) (Engelmayer, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning coal-mining leases previously awarded to private mining companies in Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 5, Commercial Privilege:  "The Court grants the Government's motion for summary judgment as to FOIA Exemption 5."  The court first notes that "Exemption 5 protects, among other things, 'confidential commercial information' that, if disclosed, would place the Government 'at a competitive disadvantage.'"   The court holds that defendant's declaration "establishes that disclosure of the withheld qualitative information in BLM's appraisal reports and supporting documents 'would significantly harm the Government's monetary functions or commercial interests,' . . . by allowing bidders to approximate the Government's confidential floor price with substantially greater accuracy."  The court explains that "[f]irst, the declaration clearly explains that BLM uses a common qualitative methodology to estimate the fair market value of each tract of land" and "[d]isclosure of fully unredacted reports would reveal the factors that BLM considers at each stage of the valuation process, how its appraisers evaluate those factors, and the weight each factor is given."  "Second, the declaration clarifies that some of the salient information is identical for every fair market value estimate" and, "[b]ecause this data remains static across reports, at least for some period of time, disclosure would provide bidders with the exact information BLM will use to estimate fair market value for future lease sales."  "Third, . . . the declaration demonstrates that the qualitative and quantitative data are inextricably intertwined."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection & Discovery:  The court finds that "[plaintiff] does not allege that [defendant's] Declaration was written or submitted in bad faith, and the Court finds the declaration adequate on its face."  "Discovery and in camera review are, therefore, inappropriate in this case."
     
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 5
In Camera Review
Litigation Considerations
Updated February 5, 2015