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Wright v. DOJ, No. 17-1451, 2019 WL 1508064 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 4, 2019)


Wright v. DOJ, No. 17-1451, 2019 WL 1508064 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 4, 2019)

Re:  Request for records concerning criminal investigation into plaintiff's business dealings

Disposition:  Granting defendants' motions for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations:  The court holds that, "[b]ased on [plaintiff's] failure to address the arguments presented, the Court finds that the Tax Division's search was reasonable and that its application of Exemptions 3, 5, and 7 were proper."
  • Exemption 6:  The court holds that "there was no error in the Tax Division's decision to withhold private information under Exemption 6."  The court finds that. "[g]iven that the individuals referenced in the Tax Division's documents were linked to criminal investigations, the Tax Division properly applied Exemption 6 to withhold their names and personal information from its production."  "Further, the Tax Division's decision to redact names, email addresses, home addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers of individuals mentioned in the documents (and especially those linked to a criminal investigation) is consistent with a long-recognized rule that such disclosure would constitute a 'clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy' with no countervailing public interest."
  • Exemption 3:  The court holds that "[t]he search warrant affidavits here, which were created by an IRS Special Agent in advance of the grand jury proceedings, are indicative of the 'direction and strategy of the investigation' because they show who and/or what was being searched."  "Such materials were properly withheld under Exemption 3."
  • Litigation Considerations, Discovery:  The court denies plaintiff's request for discovery and finds that "[t]he point of this case is to determine whether the various agencies properly withheld documents under the relevant FOIA exceptions, not to provide the best ammunition to [plaintiff] in his efforts to show that the government interfered in his business dealings."
  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  "Given the opportunities given to Wright to clarify his broad request and his failure to do so, the Treasury did not have an obligation to respond under the FOIA."  The court finds that "[w]hether [plaintiff's] request here was impermissibly broad would normally be a close call."  "On one hand, 'all records . . . pertaining to [an investigation]' is more or less the definition of a broad, sweeping request."  "On the other hand, [plaintiff] specifically named the individuals and office involved in that investigation, which would cut down considerably on the guesswork required."  'What tips the scales in favor of the Treasury is that [plaintiff] did not respond when asked for clarifying information."  "Although the Treasury may have been able to search for documents based on the information provided (or at least referred the request to the relevant division), it chose instead to request supplemental information so that it could be sure it was providing responsive information."  "That decision was not improper."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 3
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Discovery
Litigation Considerations, Supplemental to Main Categories
Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests
Updated January 11, 2022