Trea Senior Citizens League v. U.S. Dep't of State, No. 10-1423 (BAH), 2013 WL 458297 (Feb. 7, 2013) (Howell, J.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013
Re: Request for records concerning the agreement between the United States and Mexico regarding the payment of U.S. Social Security benefits to Mexican nationals Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for in camera review
  • Exemption 1: Section 1.7(d) of Executive Order 13,526 "provides that previously unclassified information 'may be classified or reclassified after an agency has received a request for it under the [FOIA]'" under specific circumstances. The plaintiff "raises a question as to whether the defendant complied" with these requirements. The court notes "[t]he defendant fails to address this issue in any way, though it had the opportunity to do so in its reply brief or in a supplementary declaration after the plaintiff raised the issue in its opposition brief." Therefore, the court denies summary judgment to the defendant as to this issue because "the defendant's failure to address the fact that certain withheld and disputed documents were originally unclassified but were later classified at an unspecified time" makes "defendant's compliance with Executive Order 13,526 § 1.7(d)…a genuine issue of material fact." Waiver: The court rejects plaintiff's "novel proposition that, once a government agency publicly releases any information about a particular issue, that agency has waived its ability to later withhold any other information related to the same issue." The court notes "[t]he D.C. Circuit has specifically rejected the argument made by the plaintiff, holding that '[prior] disclosure of similar information does not suffice; instead, the specific information sought by the plaintiff must already be in the public domain by official disclosure.'"
  • Adequacy of Affidavit & Exemption 5/Deliberative Process Privilege: "[T]he Court is unable to conclude that the withholding…was proper under Exemption 5 because the descriptions put forth by the defendant are either conclusory or lack sufficient factual context." The descriptions of the deliberative process at issue in the records are "broad and opaque" making it "unclear [as] to which deliberative process [the] document may have contributed or pertained." Additionally, the declarations "fail to describe with any amount of detail the 'function and significance of the document[s] in the agency's decisionmaking process'" and they "do not describe in any fashion 'the nature of the decisionmaking authority vested in the office or person issuing the disputed document[s].'"
  • Segregability: The court concludes that "[i]n light of the deficiencies in the defendant's Vaughn index…the defendant's segregability efforts do not meet even the more lenient standard." "[A]bsent a sufficient Vaughn index, an agency must provide other facts, beyond its good-faith assurances, that would establish that it released all reasonably segregable, non-exempt information."
  • In Camera Review: The court determines "that in camera inspection of the disputed documents is unnecessary at this time and would not serve the interests of judicial economy." "The Court believes that any factual deficiencies in the defendant's sworn declarations are capable of being cured by the submission of additional sworn declarations that may clear up any of the remaining issues of material fact discussed above."
Adequacy of Affidavit
District Court
Exemption 1
Exemption 5
In Camera Review
Updated August 6, 2014