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Siegelman v. DOJ, No. 16-00083, 2019 WL 1513979 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 8, 2019) (Haikala, J.)


Siegelman v. DOJ, No. 16-00083, 2019 WL 1513979 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 8, 2019) (Haikala, J.)

Re:  Request for report of investigation regarding prosecution of former Alabama Governor Donald Siegelman

Disposition:  Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees; instructing parties to confer regarding fees and costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  The court holds that "[plaintiff] substantially prevailed in this action."  The court finds that "[i]n this case, [plaintiff's] prosecution of this action may reasonably be regarded as necessary to obtain the three pages of the ROI that OPR disclosed in 2016 and the 34 pages of the ROI that OPR produced in 2018."  "It does not appear that OPR conducted a segregation analysis until the summary judgment stage in this litigation."  "Thus, this litigation caused OPR to make a good faith effort to search through the ROI and determine whether information in the ROI should be disclosed."
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  The court holds that "[t]he factors, in combination, demonstrate that [plaintiff] is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees."  First, the court finds that "the 'benefit to the public' factor supports a finding that [plaintiff] is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees."  The court finds that "[g]iven the subject of the ROI, the general description of the contents of the ROI, the evidence which [plaintiff] offered which demonstrates the public interest in the . . . prosecution, and the related Congressional investigation, it is 'relatively easy' for [plaintiff] to demonstrate the 'potential public value' of the FOIA request even though the released portions of the ROI may reveal little."  Next, the court finds that, "[b]ecause [plaintiff] has dual interests in the release of the ROI, some private and some public, this factor weighs neither strongly for nor strongly against a finding that [plaintiff] is entitled to fees."  The court explains that "[plaintiff's] efforts seem to stem from mixed motives."  "He and his family certainly have a private interest in the ROI, but [plaintiff] fairly points out that the public also has a legitimate interest in OPR's investigation of conduct that led OPR to conclude that 'some employees had exercised poor judgment with respect to discrete issues' in the . . . prosecution."  Finally, the court finds that "OPR's decision to withhold most of the ROI was reasonable and was based in the law . . ., but it was not reasonable for OPR to delay a segregability analysis until after [plaintiff] filed his lawsuit."  "If OPR did, in fact, conduct a segregability analysis before it filed its motion for summary judgment in this case, OPR has not proven that it did so."  "This factor tilts slightly in favor of a finding that [plaintiff] is entitled to an award of attorney fees."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  The court finds that, "[a]lthough [plaintiff's] action prompted OPR to produce some information, [plaintiff's] effort to obtain the entire ROI based on his bad faith argument was not successful."  "And while the record indicates that OPR did not 'ma[k]e a good faith effort to search out material and to pass on whether it should be disclosed' until the summary judgment stage of this litigation . . . the record also demonstrates that much of the information in the ROI was subject to FOIA exemptions, leaving little substantive information eligible for production."  "Under these circumstances, [plaintiff] is entitled to a modest award of fees and costs."  "The Court instructs the parties to confer and to try to agree on a modest payment of fees and costs."  "If the parties cannot agree, then [plaintiff] may filed an amended petition for fees and costs, consistent with the analysis in this opinion."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated January 11, 2022