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In Re Clinton, No. 20-5056, 2020 WL 4745104 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 14, 2020) (Wilkins, J.)


In Re Clinton, No. 20-5056, 2020 WL 4745104 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 14, 2020) (Wilkins, J.)

Re:  Request for e-mails from former Secretary of State and her aides, concerning talking points that former United Nations Ambassador used to defend Administration's response to attack on United States Embassy in Benghazi, Libya

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part petition for writ of mandamus to prevent depositions of former Secretary of State and her Chief of Staff ordered by district court

  • Litigation Considerations, Discovery:  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit "find[s] the District Court clearly abused its discretion . . . by improperly engaging in a Federal Records Act-like inquiry in this FOIA case, and by ordering further discovery without addressing this Court's recent precedent potentially foreclosing any rationale for said discovery."  The court explains that "in finding suspicions of bad faith by the State Department opened the door for these far-reaching depositions of Petitioners, the District Court clearly abused its discretion."  "The mere suspicion of bad faith on the part of the government cannot be used as a dragnet to authorize voluminous discovery that is irrelevant to the remaining issues in a case."  "Here, the District Court ordered Secretary Clinton's deposition primarily to probe her motives for using a private email server and her understanding of the State Department's records-management obligations."  "However, neither of these topics is relevant to the only outstanding issue in this FOIA litigation – whether the State Department has conducted an adequate search for talking points provided to Ambassador Rice following the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, or for any communications or records related to those specific talking points."  The court holds that "[t]he District Court has impermissibly ballooned the scope of its inquiry into allegations of bad faith to encompass a continued probe of Secretary Clinton's state of mind surrounding actions taken years before the at-issue searches were conducted by the State Department."
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit holds that "the District Court abused its discretion by misapplying the relevant legal standard for a FOIA search."  "Here, rather than evaluating whether the State Department's search for documents related to Ambassador Rice's Benghazi talking points was adequate, the District Court has instead authorized an improper Federal Records Act-like inquiry to uncover purely hypothetical emails or communications."  "It is well established that the reasonableness of a FOIA search does not turn on 'whether it actually uncovered every document extant,' . . . and that the failure of an agency to turn up a specific document does not alone render a search inadequate . . . ."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Court of Appeals opinions
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Discovery
Updated September 11, 2020