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Jan 13 21

When FOIA Goes to Court: 20 Years of Freedom of Information Act Litigation by News Organizations and Reporters

by FOIA Project Staff

The news media are powerful players in the world of government transparency and public accountability. One important tool for ensuring public accountability is through invoking transparency mandates provided by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2020, news organizations and individual reporters filed 122 different FOIA suits[1] to compel disclosure of federal government records—more than any year on record according to federal court data back to 2001 analyzed by the FOIA Project

In fact, the media alone have filed a total of 386 FOIA cases during the four years of the Trump Administration, from 2017 through 2020. This is greater than the total of 311 FOIA media cases filed during the sixteen years of the Bush and Obama Administrations combined. Moreover, many of these FOIA cases were the very first FOIA cases filed by members of the news media. Almost as many new FOIA litigators filed their first case in court in the past four years—178 from 2017 to 2020—than the years 2001 to 2016, when 196 FOIA litigators filed their first case. Reporters made up the majority of these. During the past four years, more than four out of five of first-time litigators were individual reporters. The ranks of FOIA litigators thus expanded considerably during the Trump Administration, with more reporters challenging agencies in court for failing to provide records they are seeking, either alone or with their news organizations.

Using the FOIA Project’s unique dataset of FOIA cases filed in federal court, this report provides unprecedented and valuable insight into the rapid growth of media lawsuits designed to make the government more transparent and accountable to the public. The complete, updated list of news media cases, along with the names of organizations and reporters who filed these suits, is available on the News Media List at FOIAProject.org. Figure 1shows the total number of FOIA cases filed by the news each year. Counts are available in Appendix Table 1 at the end of this report.

Figure 1. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Cases Filed by News Organizations and Reporters in Federal Court, 2001–2020.
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Jan 10 21

FOIA Activity: 124 new FOIA court documents, plus case descriptions

by Harry Hammitt

We have added 41 documents from 6 FOIA cases filed between December 27, 2020 and January 2, 2021. Note that there can be delays between the date a case is filed and when it shows up on PACER. If there are filings from this period that have yet to be posted on PACER, this FOIA Project list may not be complete.

Click on a case title below to view details for that case, including links to the associated docket and complaint documents.

  1. JAMES MADISON PROJECT et al v. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (filed Dec 28, 2020)
    The James Madison Project and Daily Beast Editor Noah Shachtman submitted a FOIA request to the General Services Administration for records concerning the agency’s decision to recognize Joe Biden as president-elect. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request. After hearing nothing further from the agency, JMP and Shachtman filed suit read more…
Jan 10 21

FOIA Activity: 1 New Procedural or Substantive Decisions

by FOIA Project Staff

We have added 1 decision of a procedural or substantive nature filed between December 27, 2020 and January 2, 2021. These are associated with 1 FOIA case pending in federal district court. Note that because there can be delays between the date a decision is made and when it shows up on PACER, this listing includes only decisions that appeared on PACER during this period.

Click on the date to view the full text of the decision. Click on the case title below to view other details for that case, including links to the docket report and complaint.

Dec 26 20

PROJECT FOR PRIVACY AND SURVEILLANCE ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE et al

by Harry Hammitt

We have added 174 documents from 22 FOIA cases filed between December 13, 2020 and December 19, 2020. Note that there can be delays between the date a case is filed and when it shows up on PACER. If there are filings from this period that have yet to be posted on PACER, this FOIA Project list may not be complete.

Click on a case title below to view details for that case, including links to the associated docket and complaint documents.

  1. PROJECT FOR PRIVACY AND SURVEILLANCE ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE et al (filed Dec 14, 2020)
    The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability submitted FOIA requests to the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the Department of State for records concerning requests for unmasking or upstreaming, including requests for former members of congressional intelligence committees read more…
Dec 26 20

FOIA Activity: 12 New Procedural or Substantive Decisions

by FOIA Project Staff

We have added 12 decisions of a procedural or substantive nature filed between December 13, 2020 and December 19, 2020. These are associated with 12 FOIA cases pending in federal district court. Note that because there can be delays between the date a decision is made and when it shows up on PACER, this listing includes only decisions that appeared on PACER during this period.

Click on the date to view the full text of the decision. Click on a case title below to view other details for that case, including links to the docket report and complaint.

  1. CAS 3:2020cv00990Voice of San Diego v. Federal Communications Commission et al

    • December 15, 2020: ORDER Vacating and Resetting Continued Status/Case Management Conference. By 1/14/2021 the parties shall file an updated joint status report with the Court. The status conference set for December 16, 2020 is VACATED and RESET for 1/21/2021 at 10:00 AM before Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes. Signed by Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes on 12/15/2020. (tcf)
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Dec 17 20

Center for Food Safety v. Department of the Interior and 10 other new FOIA lawsuits, plus case descriptions

by Harry Hammitt

We have added 65 documents from 10 FOIA cases filed between December 6, 2020 and December 12, 2020. Note that there can be delays between the date a case is filed and when it shows up on PACER. If there are filings from this period that have yet to be posted on PACER, this FOIA Project list may not be complete.

Click on a case title below to view details for that case, including links to the associated docket and complaint documents.

  1. Center for Food Safety v. Department of the Interior (filed Dec 9, 2020)
    The Center for Food Safety submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Interior for records concerning the involvement of Assistant Deputy Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipworth in the 2018 decision to reverse the 2014 ban on the use of GE crops and neonicotinoid pesticides in the Refuge System read more…
Dec 17 20

FOIA Activity: 19 New Procedural or Substantive Decisions

by FOIA Project Staff

We have added 19 decisions of a procedural or substantive nature filed between December 6, 2020 and December 12, 2020. These are associated with 18 FOIA cases pending in federal district court. Note that because there can be delays between the date a decision is made and when it shows up on PACER, this listing includes only decisions that appeared on PACER during this period.

Click on the date to view the full text of the decision. Click on a case title below to view other details for that case, including links to the docket report and complaint.

  1. CAN 3:2018cv03472Sierra Club v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

    • December 8, 2020: Order by Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero denying [80] EPA's Motion to Claw Back Documents and for Summary Judgment. (jcslc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 12/8/2020)
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Dec 15 20

November 2020 FOIA Litigation with Five-Year Monthly Trends

by FOIA Project Staff

During the month of November 2020 federal district courts saw a total of 55 new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed under 5 U.S.C. 552. To place this number in perspective, 55 new filings compares with a monthly average of 63 filings during the last 12 months. This month’s total brought overall FOIA filings on an annual basis for these last 12 months to 758.

The figure below provides a more detailed view of monthly trends during the past five years. The height of each bar reflects the number of filings in that month. To see the actual filing count mouse over any bar. The superimposed line over the bars is the moving 12-month average. It is computed by adding up the 12 months ending at a given month, and then dividing that total by 12 to obtain the monthly average over this period. Mousing over any bar also shows the calculated result for this moving average for that given month.
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Dec 11 20

FOIA Activity: 274 new FOIA court documents, plus case descriptions

by Harry Hammitt

We have added 126 documents from 17 FOIA cases filed between November 29, 2020 and December 5, 2020. Note that there can be delays between the date a case is filed and when it shows up on PACER. If there are filings from this period that have yet to be posted on PACER, this FOIA Project list may not be complete.

Click on a case title below to view details for that case, including links to the associated docket and complaint documents.

  1. US Right to Know v. United States Department of State (filed Nov 30, 2020)
    US Right to Know submitted a FOIA request to the Department of State for records concerning communications involving a list of agency senior officials and search terms related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. USRTK also requested a fee waiver. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request and told USRTK that the request would be put in the complex track for processing read more…
Dec 11 20

FOIA Activity: 15 New Procedural or Substantive Decisions

by FOIA Project Staff

We have added 15 decisions of a procedural or substantive nature filed between November 29, 2020 and December 5, 2020. These are associated with 13 FOIA cases pending in federal district court. Note that because there can be delays between the date a decision is made and when it shows up on PACER, this listing includes only decisions that appeared on PACER during this period.

Click on the date to view the full text of the decision. Click on a case title below to view other details for that case, including links to the docket report and complaint.

  1. CAE 2:2018cv00873Stanco et al v. Internal Revenue Service

    • December 2, 2020: ORDER signed by District Judge Troy L. Nunley on 12/1/2020 ORDERING that Defendant's responsive pleading is due 14 days from the filing of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint.(Reader, L)
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