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Stotter v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., No. 14-2156, 2020 WL 5878033 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2020) (Brown Jackson, J.)


Stotter v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., No. 14-2156, 2020 WL 5878033 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2020) (Brown Jackson, J.)

Re:  Request for "'any USAID or United States financial grants or funding directed to any Pakistan based media organizations for the purpose of supporting Pakistan related media projects[,]' from January 1, 2007, through the time of the request"

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment

  • Exemption 6:  "[T]he Court concludes that USAID's invocation of Exemption 6 was proper with respect to the documents at issue, and that the agency is entitled to summary judgment concerning those particular withholdings, because it has demonstrated that all reasonably segregable material has been released."  The court finds that "the records qualify as the types of records to which Exemption 6 applies, and the privacy interests at stake are both substantial and outweigh any public interest in disclosure."  First, "the Court has little doubt that the withheld information in the grant records qualifies as 'similar files' for the purpose of Exemption 6" because "the grant forms that plaintiff] seeks contain personal, identifying information about the grant recipients, and USAID represents that it has 'redacted from the grant clearance forms identifying information of contractor, grantee, and sub-grantee staff and beneficiaries, and related information that could be used to identify them, such as the name of a group with whom they were affiliated, or its location.'"  Second, the court agrees with defendant that "that the release of identifying information concerning individuals who are tied to the U.S. government and who work in a sensitive geopolitical region like Pakistan might subject those individuals to targeting, potential inquiries, or harassment."  "Lastly, [the court finds that] the privacy interest in withholding identifying information regarding USAID-affiliated grantees in Pakistan outweighs any public interest in the disclosure of information" because "it is not at all clear how the withheld information advances the general public interest in shedding light on 'the operations or activities of government' . . . ."  Regarding segregability, the court finds that "[t]he fact that the agency specified the sensitive fields that were redacted from the release, released the fields not subject to Exemption 6, and even reconsidered former redactions gives the Court confidence that USAID made a serious effort to release what it could, and excluded only that which was permissible under Exemption 6."  "This showing gives rise to a presumption of compliance with the segregability requirement, . . . and as a result, the Court concludes that USAID has satisfied its segregability burden with respect to Exemption 6."
  • ​​​​​​​Exemption 4:  "[D]ue to intervening binding precedent, the record is presently insufficient to allow the Court to determine whether the agency has properly justified its withholdings pursuant to Exemption 4, or whether USAID has complied with the FOIA's segregability requirement with respect to this exemption."  The court explains that "while the instant case was pending, the Supreme Court abrogated the D.C. Circuit's competitive-harm test, . . . such that the applicable standard now requires an assessment of 'two conditions that might be required for information communicated to another to be considered confidential[,]” regardless of whether the information is voluntarily or involuntarily shared with the government:  (1) whether the information is 'customarily and actually treated as private by its owner[,]' and (2) whether it was 'provided to the government under an assurance of privacy' . . . ."  "And because neither [plaintiff] nor USAID has addressed this new test for confidentiality, this Court is unable to resolve the parties' Exemption 4 dispute based on the record presently before it."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 4
Exemption 6
Updated November 9, 2021