Samahon v. FBI, No. 12-4839, 2014 WL 4179933 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 25, 2014) (Robreno, J.)

Date: 
Monday, August 25, 2014

Samahon v. FBI, No. 12-4839, 2014 WL 4179933 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 25, 2014) (Robreno, J.)

Re: Request for internal FBI memorandum from the 1960s concerning then-Deputy FBI Director Cartha DeLoach to then-Associate Director of the FBI Clyde Tolson regarding Associate Justice of Supreme Court Abe Fortas and George Hamilton

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

  • Exemption 6:  The court holds that "Exemption 6 . . . does not provide a proper basis for the redactions in the DeLoach Memorandum."  The court first finds that "the privacy interests implicated by disclosure of the redacted name are . . . substantially diminished" because "the specific information that the FBI seeks to protect—namely, that Justice Fortas and the FBI collaborated to investigate George Hamilton—has been published in a book that is publicly available" and "George Hamilton himself has written publicly about some of the events at issue in this case."  The court then finds that, while "[p]laintiff's blackmail theory is almost certainly incorrect," "[i]t does not follow . . . that, because the premise upon which the FOIA request was made is incorrect, disclosure of the redacted name serves no public interest."  Rather, the court determines that "[i]n sum, Plaintiff has produced evidence of potentially improper conduct by the FBI; the in camera review has confirmed that disclosure exposes likely illegal or unethical conduct by at a minimum DeLoach and Justice Fortas; and the Government has conceded that there is a public interest served by disclosure."  In light of these determinations, the court holds that "the privacy interests at stake in this case are substantially diminished, which means that they can easily be overridden by the public's interest in disclosure."
     
  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court "concludes that the FBI has not met its burden of demonstrating a 'rational nexus' between 'its law enforcement authority and the information contained in the withheld material.'"  The court explains that "[h]ere, the FBI has asserted a statutory basis for its investigation that could be indicative of a legitimate law enforcement concern, but the evidence in this case shows just the opposite, revealing that [President Johnson's] White House enlisted the FBI to conduct a personal inquiry into a private individual's background without any suggestion of a security threat."
     
  • Exemption 7(C):  "[F]or the sake of completeness, the Court notes that the Government would fail [in regards to Exemption 7(C)] as well."  The court explains that "[a]s mentioned above, the interests weighed in the balancing test of Exemption 7(C) are identical to those weighed in Exemption 6; the tests differ only 'in the magnitude of the public interest that is required to override the respective privacy interests protected by the exemptions.'"
     
  • Exemptions 6 and 7(C):  The court holds that "the Government cannot categorically withhold an entire FBI file on the basis that some of the information in the file is likely exempt from disclosure."  "Rather, after deleting the specific portions of the file that are exempt from disclosure, the FBI is required to release to a FOIA requester any 'reasonably segregable portion' of each record contained within the file."  The court explains that " [t]he basic premise of the Government's argument—namely, that certain types of files are categorically exempt from disclosure—is therefore incorrect as a matter of law."  The court finds that Exemption 6 and 7(C) "can[not] be said to apply to all of the contents of the particular file at issue in this case."
     
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Exemption 7C
Updated January 29, 2015