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Niskanen Ctr. v. FERC, No. 19-125, 2020 WL 224515 (D.D.C. Jan. 15, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)


Niskanen Ctr. v. FERC, No. 19-125, 2020 WL 224515 (D.D.C. Jan. 15, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning identity of landowners affected by pipeline

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 6:  The court "will grant Defendant's Motion as amended by [its] concession."  The court relates that "[a]lthough FERC released a total of nine lists, it withheld the names and addresses of all private landowners."  First, the court notes that "[plaintiff] does not dispute that the information requested – i.e., names and addresses of private landowners – is contained within 'personnel and medical files and similar files.'"  Second, regarding the privacy interests at stake, the court finds that "[a]lthough some individuals may be happy to reveal their home addresses, many are not."  "Those landowners also have a privacy interest in not divulging that a natural-gas pipeline crosses their property – for example, to avoid potential protests on their land."  "Disclosing their names and addresses could result in an unwanted surrender of their privacy."  Third, regarding the public interest, the court finds that "Defendant offered to release the initials and street names (but not exact addresses) of all private landowners."  "The Court concludes that this limited disclosure appropriately balances the competing considerations here."  Using this limited disclosure to research the issue "would allow Plaintiff to determine whether ACP is notifying all affected landowners, as the agency requires."  "Of course, this may prove more onerous than if Plaintiff had received the specific landowner names and addresses, rather than just their initials and streets, but the Court's role is not simply to facilitate [plaintiff's] disclosure interest."  "It is also tasked with giving due weight to the landowners' privacy interest."  "The proposed limited disclosure here is a just outcome, for it protects the privacy interests of thousands of affected landowners – by withholding additional personal information – without sacrificing the public's interest in disclosure."
  • Procedural Requirements, "Reasonably Segregable" Obligation:  "[B]ecause the Court is ordering FERC to provide a fuller disclosure of the landowner lists, all that is withheld are the full names and street numbers of the landowners."  "No further segregation is possible or required here."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Procedural Requirements, “Reasonably Segregable” Obligation
Exemption 6
District Court opinions
Updated March 4, 2020