FOIA Advisor

Court opinion issued Oct. 16, 2019

Court Opinions (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Heffernan v. HHS (D.D.C.) -- on renewed summary judgment, finding that: (1) HHS performed reasonable search for certain records pertaining to 2007 review of agency’s Department of Spiritual Ministry, and (2) HHS properly withheld draft press release exchanged with third party pursuant to Exemption 5’s deliberative process privilege, in conjunction with the consultant corollary doctrine. The court’s initial opinion is here.

Summaries of all published opinions issued since April 2015 are available here.

FOIA News: Court grants class action lawsuit for systemic FOIA delays at DHS

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Judge Grants Class-Action Status To Immigrants Waiting Access To Immigration Records

By News Americas, Oct. 16, 2019

A federal court in San Francisco on Oct. 15th certified two nationwide classes of immigrants and attorneys claiming that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a systemic pattern and practice of failing to provide access to immigration case records within deadlines set by the Freedom of Information Act.

The case records, known as A-files, contain information about individuals’ immigration history in the United States. This is the first time a court has certified a class in a lawsuit alleging a pattern and practice of violating FOIA.

Read more here.

FOIA News: EPA will give requesters 20 days to reasonably describe requests

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

EPA Reverses 10-Day Deadline for FOIA Requests That Spurred Suit

Bloomberg Envt., Oct. 11, 2019

  • Document shows EPA has told staff not to give commenters a 10-day deadline on FOIA requests

  • New guidance sets 20-day time limit

The EPA is reversing its practice of shutting down Freedom of Information Act requests if petitioners don’t provide more clarifying information within 10 days, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Environment.

In an internal Sept. 12 email, Timothy Epp, acting director of EPA’s National FOIA Office, instructed agency personnel to tell requesters they have at least 20 days to respond with additional information that helps the agency find the records being sought.

Read more here (subscription required)

FOIA News: Courts pushing agencies to accelerate productions

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Judges Turn Up Heat on Feds Over Stalled Records Requests

By Megan Mineirof, Courthouse News Serv., Oct. 10, 2019

Tired and frustrated, federal judges are strategically ordering government agencies to pick up the pace in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests to pressure Congress into allocating more funding to offices tasked with releasing records to the public.

“There is this constant tension of wanting to pressure the agencies more … because it is the only way they will allocate the resources,” U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said in court Thursday.

The frustration Moss admitted — during a status conference to discuss a FOIA request for documents on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a lawsuit filed by Senate Democrats during his confirmation process — was similarly shared last week by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Agency reporting deadlines announced

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Yesterday the Office of Information Policy announced the following deadlines for agencies to submit their FY2019 annual report and their FY2020 quarterly and chief FOIA officer reports.

FISCAL YEAR 2019 ANNUAL REPORT

November 18, 2019 – Agencies are required to submit their Fiscal Year 2019 Annual FOIA Report to OIP for review and clearance.

FISCAL YEAR 2020 QUARTERLY FOIA REPORTS

January 31, 2020 – Quarter 1 data is required to be posted.
April 24, 2020 – Quarter 2 data is required to be posted.
July 31, 2020 – Quarter 3 data is required to be posted.
October 30, 2020 – Quarter 4 data is required to be posted.

2020 CHIEF FOIA OFFICER REPORTS

January 17, 2020 – Deadline for agencies receiving more than 50 requests in Fiscal Year 2019 to submit their 2019 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review and clearance. February 14, 2020 – Deadline for agencies receiving 50 requests or less that choose to report to submit their Chief FOIA Officer Report to OIP. March 9, 2020 – Agencies are required to post their 2020 Chief FOIA Officer Reports online

FOIA News: DOJ completes 2019 update to FOIA Guide

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

KEY FOIA RESOURCES: 2019 DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE GUIDE TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

By DOJ/OIP, FOIA Post, Oct. 7, 2019

The Office of Information Policy (OIP) is pleased to announce the completion of the 2019 Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act.  The Guide serves as a comprehensive legal treatise on the FOIA and contains an analysis of key judicial opinions on the FOIA as well as relevant guidance from OIP.  The Guide, OIP's capstone resource, is relied on by both agency personnel and the public for understanding the legal framework for the administration of the FOIA.  As announced in the Department's Open Government Plan version 2.0, over the past few years, OIP has posted individual chapters on a rolling basis to update the now electronic "living document" form of the Guide

Read more here.

FOIA News: October 10 is "Ombuds Day"

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

October 10 will mark the second annual “Ombuds Day,” a day that recognizes the ombudsman profession. The American Bar Association will be hosting a program on October 10 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at its DC Headquarters. See details here. Earlier that day, NARA’s Office of Government Information Services will celebrate its 10th anniversary as well as Ombuds Day from 2pm to 4pm.