University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Justice NS-DC-0092
Docket / Court 1:02-cv-02077-ESH ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) National Security
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
Case Summary
On October 24, 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union, joined by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and the Freedom to Read Foundation, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the ... read more >
On October 24, 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union, joined by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and the Freedom to Read Foundation, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (“FOIA”). The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, claiming violations of FOIA.

The plaintiffs alleged that the DOJ withheld records related to the government's implementation of the USA Patriot Act--specifically records that indicate the number of times the DOJ used particular surveillance and investigatory tools authorized by the Patriot Act since the Act took effect. The plaintiffs had requested expedited processing of their FOIA request on the grounds that the records sought pertained to "a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government's integrity which affect public confidence." The government granted the request on September 3, 2002, but had not furnished the request as of the time of filing.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on November 13, 2002 which sought an immediate response to their request from the DOJ. After a court hearing before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, the plaintiffs and the defendant agreed that the defendant would finish its processing of the requested documents by January 15, 2003. Judge Huvelle therefore denied the motion for the preliminary injunction and ordered that the defendant complete the processing by the agreed-upon date.

The DOJ released a portion of the records requested, those collected by the DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy and Office of Intelligence Policy, on January 15, 2003. The defendant moved for partial summary judgement on January 24, 2003, claiming that there were no issues of material fact regarding the defendant's compliance with the FOIA. The DOJ sought and received several extensions for the FBI's portion of the documents, and completed the order on March 3, 2003. The defendant then moved for summary judgement on March 7, 2003, claiming there were no issues of material fact regarding the defendant's compliance with FOIA for this set of documents. The plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgement on March 21, 2003.

Throughout the litigation, although it is not clear as to when, the plaintiffs narrowed the focus of their litigation, seeking improper withholdings in the released documents under two exceptions to the FOIA claimed by the defendant: Exemption 1 and Exemption 5. Exemption 1 authorizes the withholding of records “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and . . . in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1). Exemption 5 shields “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party . . . in litigation with the agency.” Id. at § 552(b)(5). The plaintiffs argued that Exemption 1 did not preclude disclosure because the aggregate statistical data that they sought on the number of times the DOJ used particular surveillance and investigatory tools authorized by the Patriot Acts had not been classified, and that Exemption 5 is inapplicable because they sought only factual information that is not protected.

On May 19, 2003, Judge Huvelle denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgement and granted the defendant's motions for summary judgement, holding that the the DOJ's withholdings under Exemption 1 were appropriate and that the dispute over Exemption 5 was "largely illusory." Based on the Court's examination of the released documents, Judge Huvelle concluded that the data that the plaintiffs sought was properly withheld under Exemption 1 and that any arguments as to Exemption 5 were without merit.

The case is now closed.

Emma Holcomb - 10/05/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Records Disclosure
Terrorism/Post 9-11 issues
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Plaintiff Description The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and Freedom to Read foundation sought injunctive relief for the release of agency files under the Freedom of Information Act
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filing Year 2002
Case Closing Year 2003
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing NS-DC-0095 : American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Justice (D.D.C.)
Docket(s)
1:02-cv-02077-ESH (D.D.C.)
NS-DC-0092-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/19/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
NS-DC-0092-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/24/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Exhibits [ECF# 20-3]
NS-DC-0092-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/07/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 26] (265 F.Supp.2d 20) (D.D.C.)
NS-DC-0092-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/19/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Huvelle, Ellen Segal (D.D.C.)
NS-DC-0092-0002 | NS-DC-0092-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Beeson, Ann (District of Columbia)
NS-DC-0092-0001 | NS-DC-0092-9000
Jaffer, Jameel (New York)
NS-DC-0092-0003 | NS-DC-0092-9000
Sobel, David L. (District of Columbia)
NS-DC-0092-0001 | NS-DC-0092-9000
Spitzer, Arthur (District of Columbia)
NS-DC-0092-0001 | NS-DC-0092-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berman, Marcia (District of Columbia)
NS-DC-0092-9000
Coppolino, Anthony J. (District of Columbia)
NS-DC-0092-9000

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