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Vaskas v. DHS, No. 21-1447, 2023 WL 4930092 (D.D.C. Aug. 2, 2023) (Chutkan, J.)


Vaskas v. DHS, No. 21-1447, 2023 WL 4930092 (D.D.C. Aug. 2, 2023) (Chutkan, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff’s criminal conviction

Disposition:  Granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 3:  The court relates that “[h]ere, Defendants invoked the Federal Victims’ Protection & Rights Act [18 U.S.C. § 3509(d)], which prohibits disclosure of ‘documents that disclose the name or any other information concerning a child,’ . . . and therefore ‘qualifies as an Exemption 3 withholding statute,’ . . . .”  “Defendants aver that the records withheld under Exemption 3 ‘contain[ ] sensitive information pertaining to child victims involved in criminal proceedings’ that ‘could potentially be used, in combination with other released information, to identify the child victims.’”  The court holds that “Defendants’ declaration establishes that some of their records related to his child pornography conviction – and therefore within the scope of his request – included statutorily protected information about children . . . .”  “That is sufficient to withhold those records.”
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  The court holds that “Defendants also properly invoked the deliberative process privilege under FOIA’s Exemption 5 to withhold ‘internal communications related to the investigation, case planning, and surveillance of [plaintiff].’”  “‘[A] decision as to whether or not to prosecute someone,’ along with ‘the information-gathering and deliberative process that produces the decision is precisely the type of material to be protected as pre-decisional under Exemption 5.’”
  • Exemption 6; Exemption 7, Threshold; Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that “[t]here is . . . no basis for disputing that Defendants lawfully withheld records under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C).”  “Defendants’ declaration states that they applied these exemptions to withhold two categories of information:  (1) ‘the names, identification codes, code names, phone numbers, and signatures of federal law enforcement officers and other government employees’; and (2) the ‘personally identifiable information [‘PII’] of third parties, to include names, case numbers, social security numbers, alien numbers, addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, VIN numbers, seizure numbers, dates of birth, Subject ID numbers, and Event numbers within ICE's documents.’”  “Exemptions 6 and 7(C) cover both categories of withheld records.”  “Under Exemption 7(C), the information was compiled for law enforcement purposes because it consists either of records regarding law enforcement officers themselves or records compiled by ICE in the course of carrying out its enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.”  “And that information could constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”  “Law enforcement officers and third parties alike could become targets for harassment, embarrassment, annoyance, or identity theft were their PII publicly disclosed.”  “By contrast, Plaintiff has identified no public interest that would outweigh those privacy invasions, much less a ‘significant’ one.”  “The Exemption 6 analysis is similarly straightforward. Its reference to ‘personnel and medical files and similar files’ is interpreted broadly, covering all ‘Government records on an individual which can be identified as applying to that individual.’”  “And for the reasons already explained, the balance of privacy considerations and the public interest tips in favor of nondisclosure.”

    The court relates that “[plaintiff] argues that the ‘identity and involvement’ of three DHS Special Agents has already been disclosed, so their information is no longer exempt.”  “But he cites no evidence that their information is in the public domain, and in any event, disclosure ‘elsewhere [does not] cause[ ] [one's] substantial privacy interests under exemption 7(C) to be diminished.’”
  • Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements:  The court holds that “Defendants also complied with their statutory duty to release ‘[a]ny reasonably segregable portion’ of the requested records.”  “Defendants aver that they ‘reviewed each record line-by-line to identify information exempt from disclosure or for which a discretionary waiver of an exemption could be applied,’ . . . and their Vaughn Index reflects that particularized review . . . .”  “They are entitled to the ‘presumption that they complied with the obligation to disclose reasonably segregable material.’”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 3
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated August 24, 2023