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Welenc v. DOJ, No. 17-0766, 2019 WL 2931589 (D.D.C. July 8, 2019) (Walton, J.)


Welenc v. DOJ, No. 17-0766, 2019 WL 2931589 (D.D.C. July 8, 2019) (Walton, J.)

Re:  Request for records in plaintiff's file concerning two individuals, as well as a letter to one special agent

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that "it is apparent that the FBI's search was reasonably calculated to locate records responsive to that request."  "The FBI's declarant describes in detail the FBI's records system, its content and organization, and the method for retrieving information from it."  "Based on the request submitted to the FBI, it was reasonable for FBI staff to look for responsive records in the CRS and to use variations of the plaintiff's name as proper search terms."
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege, Attorney Work-Product Privilege, Attorney-Client Privilege:  "Because the FBI has adequately demonstrated that the information it did not disclose is protected under the attorney-client, attorney work product, or deliberative process privileges, or some combination of these privileges, the Court concludes that it properly has been withheld under Exemption 5."  The court relates that "[t]he FBI represents that it invokes the deliberative process privilege to prevent disclosure of 'information that discusses legal opinions and proposed actions,' because the relevant documents 'outline and discuss intermediary options which led to final agency decisions' with respect to the plaintiff's lawsuit.'"  "The FBI relies on the attorney work product privilege to shield documents or portions of documents which 'discuss federal rules of civil procedure, personal impressions, comments, and legal advice' pertaining to the civil lawsuit the plaintiff 'lodged against the U.S. Department of Justice.'"  Regarding the attorney-client privilege, the court holds that "[t]he FBI's declarant explains that information in 'correspondence between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI's Las Vegas Field Office' was redacted because it 'contains confidential information between the FBI's Special Agent in Charge ('SAC') and the Chief Division Counsel ('CDC') of the Las Vegas Field Office, and the U.S. Attorney's Office.'"  "In some circumstances, the declarant states, the U.S. Attorney's Office is counsel and the FBI is the client; in others, the CDC is counsel and the SAC is the client."  The court notes that "[a]lthough the plaintiff objects to the withholding of information under Exemption 5, he fails to submit or point to any materials in the record to rebut the FBI's reasons for the withholdings."  Additionally, responding to plaintiff's specific objection, the court finds that "[e]ven if information in the withheld records exonerates the plaintiff as he speculates it would, the FBI need not disclose it if a FOIA exemption applies."
  • Exemption 6:  "[T]he Court concludes that the names of and identifying information about the individuals in the responsive documents have been properly withheld under Exemption 6."  The court relates that "[t]he FBI has withheld from production to the plaintiff the names of and identifying information about FBI Special Agents and support personnel, . . . non-federal government employees, . . . private security personnel, . . . and third party private citizens . . . ."  The court finds that "defendants adequately demonstrate that the individuals whose identities are protected have cognizable privacy interests."  The court notes that "plaintiff is . . . obligated 'to articulate a significant public interest sufficient to outweigh an individual's privacy interest,' . . . yet this plaintiff's response to the summary judgment motion nowhere addresses FOIA Exemption 6."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonable Segreagble" Requirements:  The court relates that "[plaintiff] does not argue or point to evidence in the record to rebut the 'presumption that [the FBI] complied with the obligation to disclose reasonably segregable material.'"  "And based on the Court's review of the defendants' supporting declaration and Vaughn Index, the Court concludes that FBI has released all reasonably segregable material."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 5, Attorney Work-Product Privilege
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated January 7, 2022