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Shapiro v. CIA, No. 14-00019, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124981 (D.D.C. Aug. 8, 2017) (Cooper, J.)


Shapiro v. CIA, No. 14-00019, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124981 (D.D.C. Aug. 8, 2017) (Cooper, J.)

Re:  Requests for records concerning former South African President Nelson Mandela

Disposition:  Granting defendants' motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  "[T]he Court finds [that "a 'ten-page draft Operations Plan concerning preparations for sending a U.S. delegation to South Africa for former President Mandela's funeral'"] was properly withheld under Exemption 5: The plan was distributed between agencies; it was a pre-decisional draft that was "recommendatory in nature" and could not have become final without additional inputs; and it was part of the "give-and-take of the consultative process" that occurs between governmental agencies when preparing for an international event with potential security threats."  "And while the plan does include some factual material, '[t]he choice of what factual material . . . to include or remove during the drafting process' appears to have been 'part of the [FBI's] deliberative process, and thus is properly exempt under Exemption 5.'"
  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  "Because the FBI applied its longstanding and reasonable practice of distinguishing main files and cross-references for responsiveness determinations, the Court finds that the practice 'merit[s] a presumption of good faith.'"  The court relates that "[defendant] explains that when the FBI reviewed [plaintiff's] request and searched for responsive records, it located specific mentions of Mandela's name in cross-references."  "The FBI found the specific pages with those references and only processed those pages that 'contained information about the subject of the FOIA request (contextual or concrete).'"  "This resulted in non-consecutive pages being released to [plaintiff]."  "In other words, 'the missing pages' [plaintiff] seeks neither mention Nelson Mandela nor put the relevant pages in context, and therefore fall outside the scope of his FOIA request."

    Furthermore, in response to "[plaintiff's] critici[sm] [of] the FBI's practice of using pages –rather than 'serials' – as the 'basic unit' for defining a responsive record[,]" the court finds that "it is not [plaintiff's] place to dictate how an agency should manage or define its records as long as its actions are reasonable and supported by the record."  The court finds that "a serial could be a single document, but it also could be many documents covering different topics."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records
Updated December 13, 2021