Aldf v. Usda

FOR PUBLICATION UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, No. 18-16327 Plaintiff-Appellant, D.C. No. v. 4:17-cv-03903-PJH UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; ANIMAL AND OPINION PLANT HEALTH INSPECTION SERVICE, Defendants-Appellees. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California Phyllis J. Hamilton, Chief District Judge, Presiding Argued and Submitted June 12, 2019 Anchorage, Alaska Filed August 12, 2019 Before: A. Wallace Tashima, William A. Fletcher, and Marsha S. Berzon, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge W. Fletcher 2 ALDF V. USDA SUMMARY* Freedom of Information Act The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its sub- agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, in a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) action brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (“ALDF”). The ALDF filed a complaint challenging the agency’s practice of denying requests for expedited processing of Animal Welfare Act-related FOIA requests. ALDF sought a declaration that the term “individual” in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) includes an animal. The panel held that the district court had jurisdiction to review the FOIA suit. Specifically, the panel held that ALDF’s suit was not moot because ALDF asserted a “pattern or practice” FOIA claim alleging that the agency’s policy or practice would impede ALDF’s lawful access to information in the future. The panel further held that FOIA’s jurisdiction- stripping provision did not divest the district court of jurisdiction. The panel held that where, as here, a plaintiff asserted a “pattern or practice” claim that satisfied the three- pronged test of Hajro v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 811 F.3d 1086, 1104-06 (9th Cir. 2016), 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(iv) did not bar the plaintiff’s action. * This summary constitutes no part of the opinion of the court. It has been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the reader. ALDF V. USDA 3 Interpreting the word “individual,” as used in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I), the panel held that, where, as here, “individual” is used as a noun with no corresponding group or category, its plain meaning is “human being.” The panel rejected ALDF’s assertion that the term “individual” in this context also included animals. COUNSEL Matthew G. Liebman (argued), Animal Legal Defense Fund, Cotati, California; Anthony T. Eliseuson, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Chicago, Illinois; Daniel H. Waltz, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Washington, D.C.; for Plaintiff- Appellant. John Samuel Koppel (argued) and Mark B. Stern, Appellate Staff; Alex G. Tse, United States Attorney; Joseph H. Hunt, Assistant Attorney General; Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; for Defendants- Appellees. OPINION W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge: The Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) provides for expedited processing of records where “failure to obtain requested records on an expedited basis . . . could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I). We are asked to decide whether the term “individual” in this context includes an animal ...

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