People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. NIH, No. 12-5183, 2014 WL 982875 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 14, 2014) (Srinivasan, C.J.)
Re: Request for records concerning NIH investigation of specifically named researchers at state university and confidentiality agreement between NIH and university relating to materials uncovered during investigation
Disposition: Vacating district court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment in part; affirming district court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment in part
- Exemption 7(C), The "Glomar" Response: The D.C. Circuit "agree[s] with the district court that Exemption 7(C) justifies a Glomar response" to plaintiff's request for the "disclosure of records that would confirm that NIH had investigated the three researchers." The D.C. Circuit agrees with the district court's observation that "acknowledging an NIH investigation of any of the named researchers would 'go[ ] to the heart of the privacy interest that Exemption 7(C) was designed to protect.'" The D.C. Circuit also notes that "even if the privacy interest may be lessened to a degree when the affected individual is identified as among three persons of whom one (or more) was the subject of an investigation—as compared with a situation in which a single individual is revealed to have been the subject of an investigation—there is still a substantial privacy interest at stake in the former circumstance." Additionally, the D.C. Circuit notes that "'the fact that an event is not wholly private does not mean that an individual has no interest in limiting disclosure or dissemination of the information.'"
- Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests: The D.C. Circuit holds that "[b]ecause there exists a category of responsive documents for which a Glomar response would be unwarranted, NIH's assertion of a blanket Glomar response to the second request cannot be sustained." The D.C. Circuit explains that it "understand[s] [plaintiff's] second request more broadly to reach two additional categories of documents, neither of which would necessarily reveal an investigation of the researchers." The court notes that "[plaintiff's] request includes any records 'related to' NIH investigations—not just records of actual investigations." Additionally, the D.C. Circuit notes that "[a]lthough PETA's request presupposes a complaint filed against the named researchers, the request, broadly construed, encompasses documents relating to any ensuing investigation." The D.C. Circuit instructs that "[o]n remand, NIH must search for any documents showing that, in response to complaints filed against the named researchers, the agency conducted an investigation other than one targeting the researchers."