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Tobias v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, No. 18-01368, 2021 WL 4262488 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2021) (Nichols, J.)


Tobias v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, No. 18-01368, 2021 WL 4262488 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2021) (Nichols, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning then-Secretary Ryan Zinke's activities, as well as those of other senior officials and staff

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 5, Foreseeable Harm and Other Considerations:  First, the court relates that "[i]n this case, the government invokes three privileges and one doctrine to justify its (b)(5) withholdings:  the deliberative-process privilege, the attorney-client privilege, the commercial-information privilege, and the attorney-work-product doctrine."  "It puts forth compelling reasons why each justifies the withholdings."  "But [plaintiff] does not challenge the intricacies of how each privilege or doctrine applies."  "Rather, he skips directly to the second step: arguing that the government has not met its burden to show that it would suffer foreseeable harm from the disclosure of such material."  "In narrowly focusing his challenge on this point, [plaintiff] concedes that the government properly applied each individual privilege and doctrine."  Turning to the foreseeable harm, the court finds that "[h]ere, Interior has adequately demonstrated through its declarations that foreseeable harm would result from production of the information it has withheld. Each declaration focuses on the information at issue, and each concludes that disclosure would chill future internal discussions or otherwise 'harm an interest protected by an exemption.'"  "Indeed, the Vaughn Index (which the declarations specifically incorporate) specifically identifies each individual piece of withheld information and explains why its disclosure 'would' harm a government interest."  "Interior has thus shown that the kind of harms these privileges and doctrines were designed to prevent would follow disclosure of the materials withheld here."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Other Considerations
Litigation Considerations, Foreseeable Harm Showing
Updated November 4, 2021