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Case TitleNATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC. et al v. FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY et al
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2017cv00091
Date Filed2017-01-13
Date Closed2017-11-28
JudgeChief Judge Beryl A. Howell
PlaintiffNATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC.
PlaintiffROBERT BENINCASA
Case DescriptionRobert Benincasa, a producer for the investigations unit of National Public Radio, submitted a FOIA request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for database information concerning property acquisitions resulting from a natural disaster. The agency told Benincasa that identifying information such as names and addresses would be redacted under Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Benincasa filed an administrative appeal, which was denied on the basis of Exemption 6. Benincasa and NPR then filed suit.
Complaint issues: Litigation - Attorney's fees, Exemption 6 - Invasion of privacy

DefendantFEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
DefendantUNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
DefendantDEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Complaint attachment 4
Complaint attachment 5
Complaint attachment 6
Complaint attachment 7
Complaint attachment 8
Complaint attachment 9
Opinion/Order [15]
Opinion/Order [16]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Beryl Howell has ruled that the public interest in knowing more details about FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides funding for the purchase of flood-prone properties, outweighs the privacy interest of individuals whose property was purchased by the program. Robert Benincasa, a producer with NPR's computer-assisted reporting investigations unit, requested records about the program after finding reports by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General had accused the program of mismanagement. FEMA disclosed 66 documents, but withheld names, addresses and GIS coordinates for the properties under Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Benincasa appealed that decision, but the agency upheld the redactions on appeal. Howell, however, had little trouble concluding that the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighed the limited privacy interests. The agency attempted to show that disclosure would constitute an invasion of privacy because it would connect the individuals who a particular program, particularly by suggesting they had received a unique government benefit. Howell pointed out that "because production would reveal only a one-time receipt of payment for a single past sale of real property rather than a recurring receipt of benefits, a person could not infer whether the seller has the sale money or is due to receive additional money." The agency argued disclosure could bring participants unwanted media attention. Howell indicated that "because FOIA requests almost always seek previously-unavailable information that sheds light on government activities, the government's disclosure in every case may attract media attention. To allow an agency to invoke Exemption 6 merely because the media might contact an individual in connection with a produced record would bring a vast number of FOIA requests within Exemption 6's auspices, undermining FOIA's purpose of allowing 'citizens to know what their Government is up to.'" Benincasa argued that the information was contained in public property records, but Howell noted that hardly meant that it was readily available. She observed that "the information at issue, though public in a literal sense, is not in any meaningful way." Having found a minimal privacy interest, Howell turned to the public interest, pointing out that "disclosure of the records at issue would serve the public interest." She added that "production of the records sought would reveal at least three pieces of information regarding the defendants' management of the HMGP currently unknown to the public " the specific locations of properties purchased, the properties' individual purchase prices, and the identities of HMGP sellers." FEMA argued that under Dept of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164 (1991), the derivative use of government information to contact individuals was not recognized as a public interest. Howell noted that "Ray, however, expressly declined to adopt 'a rigid rule' disregarding public interest in "derivative use" of requested documents,' and the D.C. Circuit 'takes derivative uses into account in evaluating the impact of disclosure on the public interest.'" Finding that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the privacy interests of the property owners, Howell rejected the agency's further claim that at least names should be protected. Instead, she observed that "disclosure of HMGP sellers' names would not only enable identification of fraud against the government " itself an important public interest " but would also assist the public in determining whether government actors have themselves committed fraud, coerced private citizens into selling their property, or paid sellers the full amounts they were due under the HMGP's terms."
Issues: Exemption 6 - Invasion of privacy
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2017-01-131COMPLAINT against All Defendants ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4806186) filed by NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B, # 3 Exhibit C, # 4 Exhibit D, # 5 Civil Cover Sheet, # 6 Summons DHS, # 7 Summons FEMA, # 8 Summons USAG, # 9 Summons DC USA)(Marshall, C.) (Entered: 01/13/2017)
2017-01-132LCvR 7.1 CERTIFICATE OF DISCLOSURE of Corporate Affiliations and Financial Interests by NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC. (Marshall, C.) (Entered: 01/13/2017)
2017-01-17Case Assigned to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. (zsb) (Entered: 01/17/2017)
2017-01-173SUMMONS (4) Issued Electronically as to FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachment: # 1 Consent Form)(zsb) (Entered: 01/17/2017)
2017-02-224GENERAL ORDER AND GUIDELINES FOR CIVIL CASES BEFORE JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON. The Court will hold the parties and counsel responsible for following these directives, and parties and counsel should pay particular attention to the Courts instructions for briefing motions and filing exhibits. Failure to adhere to this Order may, when appropriate, result the imposition of sanctions and/or sua sponte denial of non-conforming motions. Signed by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on 2/22/2017. (lckbj1) (Entered: 02/22/2017)
2017-02-235NOTICE of Appearance by Joshua M. Kolsky on behalf of FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 02/23/2017)
2017-02-236ANSWER to Complaint by FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY.(Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 02/23/2017)
2017-02-24MINUTE ORDER. Before the Court in this FOIA case are a complaint and an answer. It is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall promptly confer and file a joint proposed schedule for briefing or disclosure, on or before 3/10/2017. Signed by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on 02/24/2017. (lckbj1) (Entered: 02/24/2017)
2017-03-107Joint MOTION for Briefing Schedule by ROBERT BENINCASA, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Marshall, C.) (Entered: 03/10/2017)
2017-03-13MINUTE ORDER. Based on the representations in the parties' 7 Joint Motion for a Briefing Schedule, it is hereby ORDERED that the following briefing schedule is set for this matter: Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is due by 4/21/2017; Plaintiffs' Consolidated Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is due by 6/2/2017; Defendants' Consolidated Reply and Opposition is due by 6/30/2017; Plaintiffs' Reply is due by 7/19/2017. Signed by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on 3/13/2017. (lckbj3) (Entered: 03/13/2017)
2017-03-15Set/Reset Deadlines: Cross Motions due by 6/2/2017. Response to Cross Motions due by 6/30/2017. Reply to Cross Motions due by 7/19/2017. (gdf) (Entered: 03/15/2017)
2017-04-218MOTION for Summary Judgment by FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Attachments: # 1 Declaration, # 2 Exhibit A, # 3 Exhibit B, # 4 Exhibit C, # 5 Exhibit D, # 6 Text of Proposed Order)(Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 04/21/2017)
2017-06-029Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment by ROBERT BENINCASA, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC. (Attachments: # 1 Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, # 2 Statement of Facts and Response to Defendants' Statement of Facts, # 3 Declaration of Robert Benincasa, # 4 Exhibit Index, # 5 Exhibit A to Declaration, # 6 Exhibit B to Declaration, # 7 Exhibit C to Declaration, # 8 Exhibit D to Declaration, # 9 Text of Proposed Order)(Marshall, C.) (Entered: 06/02/2017)
2017-06-3010REPLY to opposition to motion re 8 MOTION for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment filed by FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. (Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 06/30/2017)
2017-06-3011Memorandum in opposition to re 9 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Reply in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment filed by FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. (Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 06/30/2017)
2017-07-0112NOTICE of Errata by FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY re 10 Reply to opposition to Motion, 11 Memorandum in Opposition, (Attachments: # 1 Declaration)(Kolsky, Joshua) (Entered: 07/01/2017)
2017-07-1913REPLY to opposition to motion re 9 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by ROBERT BENINCASA, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A)(Marshall, C.) (Entered: 07/19/2017)
2017-10-2414Case directly reassigned to Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell by consent. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr) (Entered: 10/25/2017)
2017-11-2115ORDER GRANTING the plaintiffs' 9 Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, and DENYING the defendants' 8 Motion for Summary Judgment. See Order for further details. Signed by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell on November 21, 2017. (lcbah1) (Entered: 11/21/2017)
2017-11-2116MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding the plaintiffs' 9 Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and the defendants' 8 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell on November 21, 2017. (lcbah1) (Entered: 11/21/2017)
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by FOIA Project Staff
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