Sikes v. Navy, No. 17-12421, 2018 WL 3470388 (11th Cir. July 19, 2018) (O'Scannlain, J.)
Re: Request for records relating to suicide committed by Navy Admiral who served as Chief of Naval Operations
Disposition: Affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the district court's grant of Navy's motion to dismiss
- Procedural Requirements: The Court holds that "there can be little doubt that the Navy withheld the materials found in [the Admiral's] car in response to [the requester's] Request." "[The requester] explicitly requested such materials, and the Navy acknowledges that it has them." "But, instead of giving the records to [the requester], the Navy has essentially told him that he should already have access to them, based on what he had been given in 2012" in response to a previous FOIA request. The Court finds that, "[s]till, even if that is true, the Navy itself gave nothing to [the requester] in response to [his current] request." "The Navy's reliance on an outside source ([the requester] himself) for the availability of the records does not change the fact that it withheld such records when asked for them." "The problem for the Navy . . . is that FOIA itself contains nothing that would allow an agency to withhold records simply because it has previously given them to the requester."
- Exemption 6 & 7(C): "[The requester] also argues that . . . the Navy improperly withheld [the Admiral's] suicide note to his wife." "The Navy defended its decision to withhold the note under FOIA's privacy exemptions 6 and 7(C)." The Court relates that "[t]he Supreme Court has held that . . . exemption [7C] protects the personal privacy of both the person to whom the information pertains as well as his family – including specifically the privacy of surviving family members who would object to the disclosure of 'details surrounding their relative's death.'" The court finds that "[t]he privacy interests in the withheld note are unquestionably strong." The Court further finds that, "the requested suicide note would intrude not only into the memory of a deceased loved one, but more specifically into the intimate and private relationship between [the Admiral] and his wife." "Such significant privacy interests 'should yield only where exceptional [public] interests militate in favor of disclosure.'"