APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil No. 72-1629.
Kalodner, Rosenn and Hunter, Circuit Judges.
This appeal requires us to consider the "invasion of privacy" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. Plaintiff, Wine Hobby USA, Inc. (Wine Hobby), a Pennsylvania corporation, brought suit to obtain the names and addresses of all persons who have registered with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to produce wine for family use in the Mid-Atlantic region.*fn1 The district court ordered that the names and addresses be disclosed.*fn2 The Government appeals, contending
(1) that the material sought is exempt from compulsory disclosure under Exemption (6) to the Act, § 552 (b) (6), which excludes from the Act's coverage "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," and
(2) alternatively, that the district court possesses equitable jurisdiction to decline to order disclosure in the circumstances of this case.
Under the Internal Revenue Code and the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, persons who produce wine are subject to certain permit, bonding, and tax requirements.*fn3 Criminal penalties are provided for noncompliance.*fn4 An exception to these requirements is provided by statute in the case of a "duly registered head of any family" who produces "for family use and not for sale an amount of wine not exceeding 200 gallons per annum."*fn5
Pursuant to regulations,*fn6 registration under the statutory exception is effected by filing Form 1541 with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Upon determination that the person is qualified, Form 1541 is stamped, one copy is returned to the registrant and the remaining copy is placed in the Bureau's files. Records of the Bureau indicate that in fiscal year 1973, 64,756 Forms 1541 were filed, including 2,846 in the Mid-Atlantic Region. In fiscal year 1974, as of February 1974, 41,585 Forms 1541 were on file, including 4,000 in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Wine Hobby is engaged in the business of selling and distributing amateur winemaking equipment and supplies to amateur winemakers through franchises, wholly owned retail stores, and by mail order. Wine Hobby has stipulated in the district court that its purpose in obtaining the names and addresses of the Form 1541 registrants is "to enable plaintiff to forward catalogues and other announcements to these persons regarding equipment and supplies that the plaintiff offers for sale."*fn7
We begin with the recognition that the Freedom of Information Act, enacted to remedy the inadequacies of its predecessor, section 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 1002 (1964):
is broadly conceived. It seeks to permit access to official information long shielded unnecessarily from public view and attempts to create a judicially enforceable public right to secure such information from possibly unwilling official hands.
Environmental Protection Agency v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 80, 35 L. Ed. 2d 119, 93 S. Ct. 827 (1973). The Act was intended to provide "the necessary machinery to assure the availability of Government information necessary to an informed electorate."*fn8 An integral part of the Act, however, is the nine enumerated exceptions. As the Senate Committee pointed out in its report:
At the same time that a broad philosophy of "freedom of information" is enacted into law, it is necessary to protect certain equally important rights of privacy with respect to certain information in Government files, such as medical and personnel records. It is also necessary for the very operation of our Government to allow it to keep confidential ...