Humane Society International v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL, Plaintiff, v. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE et al., Civil Action No. 16-720 (TJK) Defendants, and SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL, Defendant-Intervenor. MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Humane Society International, a nonprofit organization that promotes animal conservation and welfare, requested records concerning the import and export of wildlife that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains in its Law Enforcement Management Information System. The agency released the records but redacted certain categories of information under exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act for commercial, private personal, and law enforcement information. In this lawsuit, Humane Society International challenges those redactions as unlawful and asserts a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act, alleging that the agency had previously released these types of information but has changed its practice without adequate explanation. Safari Club International, a nonprofit organization whose members import wildlife, intervened as a defendant to prevent the disclosure of the names of its members in the records at issue. The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. At issue are the two categories of information that the agency redacted from the records it released: (1) the declared monetary value of the wildlife, which the agency withheld as confidential business information under Exemption 4, and (2) the names of individual wildlife importers and exporters, which the agency withheld as private personal information under Exemption 6 and as law enforcement records containing such information under Exemption 7(C). For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny without prejudice Humane Society International’s and Defendants’ motions for summary judgment as to the withholdings under Exemption 4; grant summary judgment for Defendants and Safari Club International as to the withholdings under Exemption 7(C); and grant summary judgment for Defendants on the Administrative Procedure Act claim. 1 Factual and Procedural Background A. The Law Enforcement Management Information System The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of the Interior, maintains the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS), an electronic database that houses information about violations of wildlife regulations, legal and illegal wildlife trade, and declared imports and exports of wildlife. Defs.’ SOF ¶¶ 3–5. Law enforcement officers routinely access LEMIS and use it as the portal for gathering and sharing intelligence between law enforcement offices around the country. Id. LEMIS includes information that importers and exporters submit through Form 3-177, the “Declaration for Importation and Exportation of Fish or Wildlife.” Id. ¶ 6. With some narrow exceptions, anyone 1 In ruling on these motions, the Court considered all relevant filings, including but not limited to the following: ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”); ECF No. 29-1 (“Decl. of Hyde-Michaels”); ECF No. 29-2 (“Vaughn Index”); ECF No. 32, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defs.’ MSJ”); ECF No. 32, Statement of Material Facts as to Which There Is No Genuine Dispute (“Defs.’ SOF”); ECF No. 34; ECF No. 36, Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Defendants’ and Defendant-Intervenor’s Motions for Summary Judgment (“Pl.’s MSJ”); ECF No. 36, ...

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