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Reyes v. Dep't of Interior, No. 17-01612, 2020 WL 2319848 (S.D. Cal. May 11, 2020) (Houston, J.)


Reyes v. Dep't of Interior, No. 17-01612, 2020 WL 2319848 (S.D. Cal. May 11, 2020) (Houston, J.)

Re:  Request for the 1928 California Indian applications of three deceased individuals, as well as enrollment and membership eligibility of one individual in the Miwok Tribe

Disposition:  Granting defendants' motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "The Court finds Defendants meet their burden to show they conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents."  The court relates that "[defendants] attest[] to reviewing records [in the appropriate record system] contained in paper filing systems or [an electronic date management system] in response to Plaintiff's FOIA requests."  The court also relates the search terms used and finds that "[a]ll files that were reasonably expected to contain the requested records were searched."
  • Exemption 6:  The court finds that "the exemption was properly applied."  Regarding the privacy interest, the court relates that "Plaintiff asserts he is entitled to certain records relating to individuals who are deceased but, Defendants argue, privacy interests are diminished, not eliminated, by an individual's death."  "Additionally, they contend, if disclosed, the information would reveal the personal heritage and ethnicity of the individuals' living relatives."  "Defendants argue disclosure of such information could lead to harassment, discrimination, embarrassment, and any other negative effects that could come from revealing such intimate details."  "The Court is not persuaded that the privacy interests of the living relatives are somehow diminished or eliminated by the possibility the information is available elsewhere to the public."  Regarding the public interest, the court relates that "Plaintiff asserts a public interest correcting tribal affiliations and blood degrees."  "The relevant public interest in a FOIA action 'is the extent to which disclosure would serve the "core purpose of the FOIA," which is "contribut[ing] significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government."'"  The court finds that "[t]he privacy interests of the living relatives outweigh the public interest in the information." 
  • Exemption 6 & Waiver and Discretionary Disclosure, Waiver:  The court addresses plaintiff's argument that "the records [defendant withheld under Exemption 6] are available in the public domain of the National Archives and the World Wide Web on"  "To the extent Plaintiff argues Defendants waive their right to withhold the information because they 'officially acknowledged' the information, [the court holds that] the argument fails because Plaintiff fails to demonstrate applicability of the official acknowledgment doctrine."  "'[P]ublic availability of the information does not, on its own, trigger application of the official-acknowledgement doctrine.'"  "The official acknowledgement doctrine requires Plaintiff show the information requested is as specific as the information previously released, matches the information the information previously disclosed, and was already made public through an official and documented disclosure."  "Plaintiff presents no facts or argument to support these requirements."
  • Litigation Considerations Pattern-or-Practice Claims:  The court relates that "[a] thorough review of Plaintiff's complaint demonstrates he did not assert a claim based upon a pattern or practice."  "His complaint merely alleges delays in responding to his FOIA requests."  "Defendants do not dispute that the responses to Plaintiff's requests were untimely."  "Instead, Defendants argue any claims based on their untimely responses are moot because they processed Plaintiff's records requests and properly applied the exemption."  "Generally, an agency's production of all non-exempt information, 'however belatedly, moots FOIA claims.'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Policy-or-Practice Claims
Waiver and Discretionary Disclosure
Updated June 5, 2020