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Case TitleSTORY OF STUFF PROJECT et al v. UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2017cv00098
Date Filed2017-01-13
Date ClosedOpen
JudgeJudge Amit P. Mehta
PlaintiffSTORY OF STUFF PROJECT
PlaintiffCOURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE
Case DescriptionThe Story of Stuff Project and the Courage Campaign Institute submitted a FOIA request to the U.S. Forest Service for records concerning the water diversion facilities constructed and operated on Forest Service land near the West Fork of Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request, but after hearing nothing further from the Forest Service, the Story of Stuff Project and the Courage Campaign Institute filed suit.
Complaint issues: Failure to respond within statutory time limit, Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantUNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Opinion/Order [27]
FOIA Project Annotation: In response to the request by Story of Stuff Project and the Courage Campaign Institute for records about Nestle's water operations, the U.S. Forest Service located 928 photos, 728 GIS files, 4 spreadsheets, one video, and 11,425 pages of responsive records. The agency disclosed 8,193 pages in full, 1,991 pages in part, and withheld 1,241 pages entirely, citing Exemption 4 and Exemption 9, as well as Exemption 5 and Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Under Exemption 4, the agency withheld mapping information describing the location of springs and pathways to those locations, technical specifications of equipment, geological and hydrogeological analysis of springs, and proprietary groundwater production information. The agency also withheld the text of a report consisting of GIS files, photographs, field inventory forms and analytical reports. The agency claimed that disclosure of this information would likely cause substantial competitive harm to Nestle. Story of Stuff Project argued that a 1999 Dames & Moore report assessing Arrowhead Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains, released by the California State Water Resources Control Board, had made public much of the information about the location of wells and water operations that Nestle was claiming as proprietary. The agency provided an affidavit from Nestle arguing that the Old Fire of October 2003 in the San Bernardino Mountains had destroyed Nestle's existing infrastructure requiring the company to completely rebuild it. Mehta agreed that Nestle's affidavit undercut Story of Stuff Project's public domain argument but pointed out that the plaintiffs questioned whether or not the 2003 fire had destroyed Nestle's underground infrastructure. Mehta observed that "the court is persuaded that the 2003 fire led [Nestle] to replace nearly all the above-ground infrastructure in place prior to the fire, but the Forest Service does not provide any details as to whether the locations of [Nestle's] boreholes and springs changed as a result of the 2003 fire. In other words, while the agency's declarations make clear that the 2003 fire affected [Nestle's] operations above ground, the court cannot determine whether the fire affected [Nestle's] field conditions below ground, rendering the information from the 1999 Dames & Moore report as to the locations of [Nestle's] boreholes and springs likewise obsolete." In a footnote, Mehta pointed out that this uncertainty also affected the agency's Exemption 9 claim. He told the agency that it could supplement its affidavits to address the issue. On the matter of competitive harm, Story of Stuff Project argued that Nestle did not face competition for its operations in the San Bernardino National Forest. Mehta indicated that was too narrow a frame. He explained that "the inquiry here is not whether disclosure of the withheld information will cause competitive harm to [Nestle] solely as to its ability to obtain a specific use permit to draw water from the San Bernardino National Forest, but instead whether disclosure will cause competitive harm to [Nestle] as to 'day-to-day competition' with other businesses offering bottled spring water." Nestle argued that its competitors "could use the [withheld information] to reverse-engineer [Nestle's] internal business processes " a unique system that [Nestle] uses to scientifically evaluate, license, and operationalize spring sites " in order to use these internal processes to develop their own spring sources and spring water business." In response, Story of Stuff Project once again asserted that the information was in the public domain. Finding Nestle's arguments persuasive, Mehta agreed that disclosure could cause substantial competitive harm. Mehta rejected the plaintiffs' argument that certain records were not protected by either the deliberative process privilege or the attorney-client privilege. Story of Stuff Project argued that records concerning methods of collecting data on waterways were not deliberative because they did not reflect any policy discussion. Mehta disagreed, noting that "the Forest Service's discussions pertaining to data collection reflect deliberative 'policy judgments' because the Forest Service is engaged in a 'back and forth' as to the best method of accomplishing a particular agency objective." However, he found that the Forest Service's use of Exemption 6 to withhold names was too broadly applied. He pointed out that "rather than provide detailed information about why disclosing the withheld names would constitute an invasion of privacy, the Forest Service merely concludes that these individuals have a privacy interest in the nondisclosure of their names. Such a conclusory assertion is clearly insufficient to satisfy an agency's burden to invoke Exemption 6."
Issues: Exemption 4 - Competitive harm, Exemption 5 - Privileges - Deliberative process privilege - Deliberative, Exemption 6 - Invasion of privacy
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2017-01-131COMPLAINT against UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4806909) filed by Story of Stuff Project, Courage Campaign Institute. (Attachments: # 1 Summons Civil Process Clerk, # 2 Summons Attorney General, # 3 Summons U.S. Forest Service)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/13/2017)
2017-01-132Corporate Disclosure Statement by Story of Stuff Project. (Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/13/2017)
2017-01-133Corporate Disclosure Statement by Courage Campaign Institute. (Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/13/2017)
2017-01-174CIVIL COVER SHEET by STORY OF STUFF PROJECT, COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE re 1 Complaint, filed by STORY OF STUFF PROJECT, COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE. Related document: 1 Complaint, filed by STORY OF STUFF PROJECT, COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE.(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/17/2017)
2017-01-17Case Assigned to Judge Amit P. Mehta. (zsb) (Entered: 01/17/2017)
2017-01-175SUMMONS (3) Issued Electronically as to UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachments # 1 Consent Form)(zsb) (Entered: 01/17/2017)
2017-01-316RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed as to the United States Attorney. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney on 1/24/2017. Answer due for ALL FEDERAL DEFENDANTS by 2/23/2017. (Attachments: # 1 Proof of Servvice)(Kenna, Matt) (Main Document 6 replaced on 2/1/2017) (jf). (Entered: 01/31/2017)
2017-01-317RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed on United States Attorney General. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney General 1/23/2017. (Attachments: # 1 Proof of Service)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/31/2017)
2017-01-318RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed. UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE served on 1/23/2017 (Attachments: # 1 Proof of Service)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 01/31/2017)
2017-02-229Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Answer re 1 Complaint, by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 02/22/2017)
2017-02-22MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 9 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to File an Answer. Defendant's responsive pleading shall now be due on or before April 14, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 02/22/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 02/22/2017)
2017-02-22Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Responsive pleading due by 4/14/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 02/23/2017)
2017-04-1310Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Answer re 1 Complaint, by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 04/13/2017)
2017-04-14MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 10 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to File an Answer. Defendant's responsive pleading shall now be due on or before May 16, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 04/14/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 04/14/2017)
2017-04-14Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Answer to Complaint due by 5/16/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 04/18/2017)
2017-05-1611Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Answer re 1 Complaint, by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 05/16/2017)
2017-05-17MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 11 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time. Defendant's responsive pleading is now due on or before June 15, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 05/17/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 05/17/2017)
2017-05-17Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Answer to Complaint due by 6/15/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 05/18/2017)
2017-06-1412Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Answer re 1 Complaint, by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 06/14/2017)
2017-06-16MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 12 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time. Defendant's responsive pleading is now due on or before June 20, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 06/16/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 06/16/2017)
2017-06-16Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Responsive pleading due by 6/20/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 06/19/2017)
2017-06-2013ANSWER to Complaint by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE.(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 06/20/2017)
2017-06-2014ORDER: Both a Complaint and an Answer are now before the court in this FOIA case. It is hereby ordered that the parties shall meet and confer and file a Joint Status Report on or before July 7, 2017. See the attached Order for additional details. Signed by Amit P. Mehta on 06/20/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 06/20/2017)
2017-06-20Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Joint Status Report due by 7/7/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 06/20/2017)
2017-07-0615Joint STATUS REPORT by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE. (Nebeker, William) (Entered: 07/06/2017)
2017-07-10MINUTE ORDER: Upon consideration of the parties' 15 July 6, 2017, Joint Status Report, the parties are directed to file another Joint Status Report, on or before September 14, 2017, which updates the court of their progress and, if necessary, proposes a briefing schedule for summary judgment. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 07/10/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 07/10/2017)
2017-07-10Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Joint Status Report due by 9/14/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 07/11/2017)
2017-09-1416Joint STATUS REPORT by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 09/14/2017)
2017-09-1417ORDER setting the schedule for further proceedings in this matter: (1) On or before October 2, 2017, Plaintiffs shall identify, by e-mail to counsel for Defendant, which withholdings and redactions they may want to challenge; (2) Defendant shall file a Vaughn Index for those documents on or before October 20, 2017; (3) On or before November 1, 2017, Plaintiffs shall identify which documents they wish to pursue in summary judgment; (4) Defendant shall file its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before December 1, 2017; (5) Plaintiffs shall file their Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Defendant's Motion on or before December 29, 2017; (6) Defendant shall file its Reply and Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on or before January 19, 2018; and (7) Plaintiffs shall file their Reply on or before February 2, 2018. See the attached Order for additional details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 09/14/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 09/14/2017)
2017-09-14Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Vaughn Index due by 10/20/2017. Defendants Summary Judgment motion due by 12/1/2017. Response to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 12/29/2017. Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 1/18/2018. Plaintiffs Cross Motion due by 12/29/2017. Response to Cross Motion due by 1/19/2018. Reply to Cross Motion due by 2/2/2018. (zcdw) (Entered: 09/15/2017)
2017-10-1918NOTICE of Appearance by Rachel Doughty on behalf of All Plaintiffs (Doughty, Rachel) (Main Document 18 replaced on 10/20/2017) (znmw). (Entered: 10/19/2017)
2017-12-0119MOTION for Summary Judgment by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Declaration Rush, # 2 Exhibit A, # 3 Exhibit B, # 4 Exhibit C (Vaughn Index), # 5 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 12/01/2017)
2017-12-2920MOTION for Summary Judgment including Statement of Material Facts & Memorandum in Support by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1, # 2 Exhibit 2, # 3 Exhibit 3, # 4 Exhibit 4, # 5 Exhibit 5, # 6 Exhibit 6, # 7 Text of Proposed Order)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 12/29/2017)
2017-12-2921RESPONSE re 19 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1, # 2 Exhibit 2, # 3 Exhibit 3, # 4 Exhibit 4, # 5 Exhibit 5, # 6 Exhibit 6, # 7 Text of Proposed Order)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 12/29/2017)
2018-01-1722Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 01/17/2018)
2018-01-17MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 22 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply. Defendant's Reply and Opposition to Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment shall now be due on or before February 9, 2018, and Plaintiffs' Reply shall be due on or before February 23, 2018. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 01/17/2018. (lcapm1) (Entered: 01/17/2018)
2018-01-17Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Defendant's Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 2/9/2018. Response to Cross Motion due by 2/9/2018. Reply to Cross Motion due by 2/23/2018. (zcdw) (Entered: 01/18/2018)
2018-02-0923Memorandum in opposition to re 20 MOTION for Summary Judgment including Statement of Material Facts & Memorandum in Support filed by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration Lawrence, # 2 Declaration Rush, # 3 Exhibit Attachments to 2d Rush Decl., # 4 Text of Proposed Order)(Nebeker, William) (Entered: 02/09/2018)
2018-02-0924REPLY to opposition to motion re 19 MOTION for Summary Judgment (same as ECF No. 23, see ECF 23 for attachments) filed by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE. (Nebeker, William) (Entered: 02/09/2018)
2018-02-2325ERRATA re ECF ## 20, 21, 20-1, 21-1 by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT 20 MOTION for Summary Judgment including Statement of Material Facts & Memorandum in Support filed by STORY OF STUFF PROJECT, COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE. (Attachments: # 1 Corrected Summary Judgment Motion/Memo, # 2 Corrected Declaration of Amanda Fox)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 02/23/2018)
2018-02-2326REPLY to opposition to motion re 19 MOTION for Summary Judgment , 20 MOTION for Summary Judgment including Statement of Material Facts & Memorandum in Support filed by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT. (Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 02/23/2018)
2018-09-2727MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER granting in part and denying in part Defendant's 19 Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Plaintiffs' 20 25 Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. The parties shall meet and confer and, no later than October 10, 2018, propose a schedule for an additional round of summary judgment briefing. See the attached Memorandum Opinion and Order for details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 09/27/2018. (lcapm3) (Entered: 09/27/2018)
2018-09-27Set/Reset Deadlines: Proposed Briefing Schedule due by 10/10/2018. (zjd) (Entered: 09/28/2018)
2018-10-1028Joint STATUS REPORT by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 10/10/2018)
2018-10-11MINUTE ORDER. Upon consideration of the parties' 28 Joint Status Report, the parties are directed to file another Joint Status Report, on or before October 24, 2018, that updates the court on their progress toward settlement. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 10/11/2018. (lcapm1) (Entered: 10/11/2018)
2018-10-11Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 10/24/2018. (zjd) (Entered: 10/11/2018)
2018-10-2429Joint STATUS REPORT by COURAGE CAMPAIGN INSTITUTE, STORY OF STUFF PROJECT. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Kenna, Matt) (Entered: 10/24/2018)
2018-10-25MINUTE ORDER entering the briefing schedule proposed in the parties' 29 Joint Status Report. The schedule for further proceedings in this matter is as follows: (1) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is due on or before December 3, 2018; (2) Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is due on or before January 7, 2019; (3) Defendant's Reply in Support of Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is due on or before January 29, 2019; and (4) Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of their Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is due on or before February 12, 2019. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 10/25/2018. (lcapm1) (Entered: 10/25/2018)
2018-10-25Set/Reset Deadlines: Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment due by 12/3/2018. Plaintiff's Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment due by 1/7/2019. Defendant's Reply and Opposition due by 1/29/2019. Plaintiff's Reply due by 2/12/2019. (zjd) (Entered: 10/25/2018)
2018-12-0330Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to File Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 12/03/2018)
2018-12-04MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 30 Consent Motion to Enlarge Time to File Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is now due on or before December 7, 2018; (2) Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is now due on or before January 11, 2019; (3) Defendant's Reply in Support of Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is now due on or before February 3, 2019; and (4) Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of their Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is now due on or before February 16, 2019. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 12/04/2018. (lcapm1) (Entered: 12/04/2018)
2018-12-04Set/Reset Deadlines: Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment due by 12/7/2018. Plaintiffs' Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment due by 1/11/2019. Defendant's Reply and Opposition due by 2/3/2019. Plaintiff's Reply due by 2/16/2019. (zjd) (Entered: 12/06/2018)
2018-12-0731MOTION for Summary Judgment by UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Facts, # 2 Memorandum in Support, # 3 Declaration Larry Lawrence, # 4 Declaration Latanga Rush)(Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 12/07/2018)
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