Sikes v. U.S., No. CV 312-045, 2013 WL 6633082 (S.D. Ga. December 6, 2013) (Bowen, J.)

Date: 
Friday, December 6, 2013
Re: Request for records concerning Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
  • Litigation Considerations:  The court dismisses several defendants because "[t]he FOIA may be enforced only against 'agencies,'" and "[f]urther, the FOIA does not 'create [ ] a cause of action for a suit against an individual employee of a federal agency.'"
  • Exemption 6:  The court finds that "[d]efendants have failed to demonstrate that disclosure of the redacted names on the invitation list would amount to a 'clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"  The court finds that "the invitation list [to a Navy ceremony] constitutes a 'similar file' under Exemption 6."  However, the court also finds that "[n]evertheless, disclosure of the redacted names would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."  The court holds that "[t]he impact of the characteristics revealed on the invitation list is minimal."  The court further finds that "the public interest in disclosure is significant."  Specifically, "the Change of Command Ceremony was a highly publicized event conducted in the course of official Navy business."  The court also finds that "[i]n addition to the direct public interest advanced by disclosure, there is a significant public interest in Plaintiff's 'derivative use' of the invitation list."  The court finds that "[d]efendants have failed to demonstrate that disclosure would amount to anything greater than a de minimis invasion of personal privacy."
  • Attorney Fees:  The court holds that "[p]laintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and expenses."  First, the court holds that plaintiff is eligible for attorney fees because "[p]laintiff has met his burden in establishing that he substantially prevailed."  The court explains that "[p]laintiff has met his burden in establishing that the instant litigation was a necessary impetus for the disclosure of the materials sought."  Additionally, the court finds that "[d]efendants' inconsistent, if not disingenuous, justifications for withholding the materials suggests an inference that they withheld the requested materials in bad faith."  The court also finds that "[p]laintiff has established that the lawsuit is not premature."  Second, the court holds that "[p]laintiff has met his burden in proving that he is entitled to attorney's fees."  The court explains that "there is a significant benefit to the public by disclosing the materials and information at issue."  The court finds that "[p]laintiff has also demonstrated his 'scholarly or public-interest' motivations in writing about Admiral Boorda, which temper his private and commercial interests."  Additionally, the court finds that "[p]laintiff has established that Defendants' justifications for withholding the materials requested are not reasonable."
Topic: 
Attorney Fees
District Court
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations
Updated August 6, 2014