United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
February 23, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:13-cv-00729) Jeffrey Light argued the cause
and filed the briefs for appellant.
M. Lyons, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for
her on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and R.
Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Before: Rogers and Tatel, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judge.
SENTELLE SENIOR CIRCUIT JUDGE.
to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5
U.S.C. § 552, appellant-plaintiff Ryan Shapiro sought
records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation
("FBI") relating to a deceased Internet activist.
Following a search, the FBI released twenty-one responsive
pages but redacted portions pursuant to exemptions from FOIA.
Shapiro filed suit against the Department of Justice
("DOJ") for violating FOIA, arguing that the FBI
incorrectly asserted FOIA exemptions and that its search was
inadequate. During the pendency of the litigation, the FBI
identified additional responsive pages, but withheld some of
the additional pages and redacted portions of others pursuant
to FOIA exemptions. Shapiro asserted objections to the
FBI's application of FOIA exemptions to these pages as
well. In a series of three opinions, the district court
affirmed the FBI's assertion of FOIA exemptions and the
adequacy of the FBI's search, granted the DOJ's
motion for summary judgment, and denied Shapiro's
cross-motion for summary judgment. Shapiro appealed.
agree with the district court that the FBI met its burden to
demonstrate that its withholdings and redactions were
justified under the FOIA exemptions. Therefore, we affirm the
district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of
the DOJ and denial of Shapiro's motion for summary
judgment with regard to the FBI's assertion of FOIA
exemptions. As to the adequacy of the FBI's search, we
remand with respect to the records from FBI case
identification number 315T-HQ-C1475879-IP, serial 91
("Serial 91"). The FBI released a redacted version
of Serial 91 to Shapiro following oral arguments.
Accordingly, as to Serial 91, we vacate the district
court's decision on the cross-motions and remand to the
extent that any further proceedings are necessary.
January 14, 2013, appellant-plaintiff Shapiro made a FOIA
request seeking FBI records "relating or referring to
the deceased person Aaron H. Swartz." Swartz, the
subject of Shapiro's FOIA request, committed suicide
while awaiting a criminal trial for alleged unauthorized
mandates broad disclosure of government records to the
public, subject to nine enumerated exemptions." Wolf
v. CIA, 473 F.3d 370, 374 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted); see 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). In response to
Shapiro's FOIA request, the FBI searched its Request
Tracking System and its Central Records System for variations
of Swartz's name and appropriate cross-references. After
reviewing twenty-three responsive pages, the FBI released
twenty-one pages in full or in part, labeled Swartz-1 through
Swartz-21, and deleted two pages as duplicates, Swartz-22 and
Swartz-23. Of the twenty-one released pages, seventeen pages
were redacted pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7. Exemption
6 protects personally identifying or private information. 5
U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). Exemption 7 allows the government to
withhold "records or information compiled for law
enforcement purposes" if the release of that information
meets one of six conditions. Id. § 552(b)(7).
administratively appealed the FBI's FOIA response,
arguing that the FBI's search was inadequate and that the
FBI erred in asserting FOIA exemptions. The FBI failed to
respond to Shapiro's administrative appeal within the
statutorily mandated time. On May 20, 2013, Shapiro filed
suit against the DOJ, as the FBI's parent agency, for
22, 2013, the DOJ moved for summary judgment. The DOJ's
motion was supported by the declaration of David Hardy, an
FBI employee from the Records Management Division, which
explained the scope of the search and the reasons for the
FBI's assertion of FOIA exemptions. Shapiro opposed the
DOJ's motion, and filed a cross-motion for summary
judgment. Shapiro argued that the FBI's search was
inadequate, complained of missing enclosures, argued that the
FBI improperly applied FOIA exemptions, and asserted that the
FBI should not have redacted the names of its databases.
the motions were pending, the FBI altered its position
regarding some of its redactions and submitted a declaration
from Dennis Argall, another FBI employee in the Records
Management Division. Argall's declaration acknowledged
the identity of the database used by the FBI,
"Accurint," because it posed "no harm,"
and he rescinded a reference to a different database,
"Guardian," that had been made in error. Argall