Insider Inc. v. U.S. General Services Administration

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA INSIDER, INC., Plaintiff, v. Case No. 1:21-cv-02653 (TNM) U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION Media company Insider Inc. filed FOIA requests with the General Services Administration seeking its records on President Trump and Vice President Pence’s 2020 transition teams. GSA obliged, producing many documents. But it withheld some team members’ names under FOIA Exemption 6. Displeased, Insider sued. Now, both parties move for summary judgment. The Court holds that GSA has satisfied its duty under FOIA to search for and produce all nonexempt information. So the Court will grant summary judgment for GSA and deny Insider’s cross motion. I. In 2021, Insider filed three FOIA requests with GSA. Each sought “information related to expenditures from presidential transition accounts maintained by GSA.” Def.’s Stat. of Undisp. Mat. Facts (SUMF) ¶ 9, ECF No. 11-2. In response, GSA determined who might have such documents and directed those employees to gather them. Decl. of Travis Lewis ¶ 15, ECF No. 11-3. It then delivered hundreds of pages of records to Insider. Id. ¶¶ 18, 20. As part of that production, GSA created a spreadsheet for each transition team. The sheets detailed each team members’ salary and estimated benefits. Ex. A, ECF No. 11-3. And the sheet for President Trump’s team also listed team members’ titles. Id. Yet GSA redacted some of the team members’ names under FOIA Exemption 6, citing the need to protect those individuals’ privacy. SUMF ¶¶ 15, 17. Miffed, Insider sued GSA. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Insider claims only that GSA improperly withheld the names under Exemption 6. See Joint Status Rep., ECF No. 9. And it asks this Court to order GSA to produce them. Compl. ¶ 38(ii). 1 Both parties now move for summary judgment. See Def.’s MSJ, ECF No. 11; Pl.’s MSJ, ECF No. 12. This Court has jurisdiction under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. II. To win on a motion for summary judgment, a party must show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In FOIA cases, an agency must prove that it has disclosed any responsive documents it holds “unless the documents [meet an] enumerated exemption.” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv. v. Sierra Club, Inc., 141 S. Ct. 777, 785 (2021). And “the agency must articulate, in a focused and concrete way, the harm that would result from disclosure.” Reps. Comm. for Freedom of the Press v. CBP, 567 F. Supp. 3d 97, 110 (D.D.C. 2021) (cleaned up). Courts construe FOIA exemptions narrowly and consider their applicability de novo. Id. at 108. Agencies bear the burden of showing that a claimed exemption applies, even if the requester seeks summary judgment too. Hardy v. ATF, 243 F. Supp. 3d 155, 162 (D.D.C. 2017). To satisfy Exemption 6, agencies must first show that they withheld information in “personnel and medical files and similar files.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). If the agency does, it …

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