Skip to content

Case Detail

[Subscribe to updates]
Case TitleKWOKA v. INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2017cv01157
Date Filed2017-06-14
Date ClosedOpen
JudgeJudge Dabney L. Friedrich
PlaintiffMARGARET B. KWOKA
Case DescriptionMargaret Kwoka, a professor at the University of Denver Law School, submitted a FOIA request to the IRS for records concerning a list of FOIA requests received by the agency in FY 2015, including information about the processing of the requests. The IRS provided some of the data requested by Kwoka, but withheld personally-identifying information under Exemption 3 (other statutes) and Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Kwoka filed an administrative appeal, which the agency denied. Kwoka then filed suit.
Complaint issues: Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantINTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Complaint attachment 4
Opinion/Order [18]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Dabney Friedrich has ruled that the IRS has failed to show why identifying information from non-taxpayer FOIA requests can be withheld under either Exemption 3 (other statutes) or Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Margaret Kwoka, a professor at the University of Denver Law School specializing in the implementation of FOIA by agencies, sent a request to the IRS for a list or log of FOIA requests received in 2015. Kwoka's asked for nine categories of information, including the name of the requester for third-party requests and the organizational affiliation of the requester if there was one. Using its automated system, the IRS responded to Kwoka's request but did not include the names or organizational affiliations of requesters. Kwoka filed an administrative appeal, which the agency denied, claiming that the information was protected under Exemption 3 and Exemption 6. Kwoka then filed suit. The agency argued that since it had an online log of FOIA requests containing request numbers and details about the topic of a request, Kwoka could cross-reference the identities of requesters and their organizational affiliations to deduce the identities of taxpayers. Friedrich found that claim illogical. She noted that "even armed with the information she requests and the publicly accessible FOIA log, in most cases Kwoka could not know with any certainty the identity of particular taxpayers. Neither the log nor the information Kwoka requests generally reveals the target of a FOIA request " the person whose tax records the requester is seeking. Thus, for third-party requests in which a requester submits a request for someone else's information, knowing the name and organizational affiliation of the requester (from her own FOIA request) in conjunction with the topic of the request (from the publicly accessible log) would not reveal the identity of the target of the request." The agency argued that with additional research, Kwoka might be able to identify corporate shareholders or relatives of deceased individuals based on whether they had asked about a corporation or an estate. Friedrich responded that "the 'corporate shareholder' might be requesting information about the corporation, but he might also be requesting information about any number of other organizations (or individuals). And importantly, Kwoka would have no way of knowing." Friedrich rejected the agency's argument concerning organizational affiliation as well. She pointed out that "because most organizations have many affiliated individuals, knowing a requester's organizational affiliation " even in conjunction with the topic of the request " would not ordinarily reveal the identity of the requester (and thus the identity of the taxpayer)." Kwoka conceded that there might be some instances in which organizational affiliation would reveal taxpayer identities, but Friedrich observed that "if those exceptions in fact exist, the IRS can make redactions. But it will have to justify its withholding 'with reasonably specific detail' to 'demonstrate that the information withheld falls within the claimed exemption.'" Friedrich found that the agency's Exemption 6 claim fared no better, although she agreed with the IRS that occasionally the topic of some FOIA requests could be so specific and personal to trigger privacy concerns. But she observed that "as Kwoka notes, she still would not know the purpose of the request." Friedrich added that "if the IRS identifies specific instances where revealing a requester's name or organizational affiliation could indeed implicate substantial privacy interests, it can redact those portions, but it must justify its redactions 'with reasonably specific detail.'" Friedrich rejected the agency's claim that providing identifying information would require the creation of new records since the agency admitted that the records existed. She rejected the agency's contention that that the records were not segregable as well, pointing out that "if the IRS means to argue that the exempt and non-exempt portions of the records in this case are 'inextricably intertwined' in the sense that it would be impossible to produce meaningful information while redacting the exempt portions, that is simply wrong; redacting individual names and organizational affiliations of exempt entries (as assessed under the standards articulated above) would not render the remaining records unintelligible." The IRS had estimated that its review 9,882 FOIA requests would take 2,200 hours of work and that to do so would be unduly burdensome. Friedrich disagreed, pointing out that "in fact, it is not a search at all. . .[T]he IRS has already located the responsive records and thus need not conduct any additional search; the only issue is whether it must spend the time to review those records to make redactions." She added that "where the IRS already has all the requested records in its possession, the Court will not allow it to withhold the documents wholesale simply because it will (potentially) take 2,200 hours to review them for redaction."
Issues: Choice of format - Burdensome, Exemption 3 - Limited agency discretion, Exemption 6 - Invasion of privacy
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2017-06-141COMPLAINT against INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4990575) filed by MARGARET B. KWOKA. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Summons Summons to Attorney General, # 3 Summons Summons to US Attorney, # 4 Summons Summons to Internal Revenue Service)(Rosenbaum, Adina) (Entered: 06/14/2017)
2017-06-14Case Assigned to Judge Amit P. Mehta. (md) (Entered: 06/15/2017)
2017-06-162SUMMONS (3) Issued Electronically as to INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachments: # 1 Notice of Consent) (md) (Entered: 06/16/2017)
2017-06-193NOTICE of Appearance by Megan Eileen Hoffman-Logsdon on behalf of INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 06/19/2017)
2017-07-114NOTICE of Appearance by Patrick D. Llewellyn on behalf of MARGARET B. KWOKA (Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 07/11/2017)
2017-07-195ANSWER to Complaint by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE.(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 07/19/2017)
2017-07-216ORDER: 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 August 7, 2017. See the attached Order for additional details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 07/21/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 07/21/2017)
2017-07-21Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Joint Status Report due by 8/7/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 07/24/2017)
2017-07-287Joint STATUS REPORT by MARGARET B. KWOKA. (Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 07/28/2017)
2017-08-01MINUTE ORDER setting the schedule for further proceedings in this matter. Defendant shall file its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before September 8, 2017; Plaintiff shall file her Opposition to Defendant's Motion and any Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before October 6, 2017; Defendant shall file its Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion and Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before October 20, 2017; and Plaintiff shall file her Reply in Support of her Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before November 3, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 08/01/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 08/01/2017)
2017-08-01Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Defendant's Summary Judgment motion due by 9/8/2017. Response to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 10/6/2017. Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 10/20/2017. Plaintiff's Cross Motion due by 10/6/2017. Response to Cross Motion due by 10/20/2017. Reply to Cross Motion due by 11/3/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 08/01/2017)
2017-09-078Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Motion for Summary Judgment by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 09/07/2017)
2017-09-07MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 8 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time. The briefing schedule in this matter is now as follows: Defendant shall file its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before September 15, 2017; Plaintiff shall file her Opposition to Defendant's Motion and any Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before October 13, 2017; Defendant shall file its Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion and Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before October 27, 2017; and Plaintiff shall file her Reply in Support of her Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before November 10, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 09/07/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 09/07/2017)
2017-09-07Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Defendant's Summary Judgment motion due by 9/15/2017. Response to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 10/13/2017. Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 10/27/2017. Plaintiff's Cross Motionsdue by 10/13/2017. Response to Cross Motion due by 10/27/2017. Reply to Cross Motion due by 11/10/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 09/11/2017)
2017-09-159MOTION for Summary Judgment by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Facts, # 2 Affidavit, # 3 Affidavit, # 4 Text of Proposed Order)(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 09/15/2017)
2017-10-1310Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment by MARGARET B. KWOKA (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Margaret B. Kwoka, # 2 Declaration of Patrick D. Llewellyn, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 10/13/2017)
2017-10-1311Memorandum in opposition to re 9 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by MARGARET B. KWOKA. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Margaret B. Kwoka, # 2 Declaration of Patrick D. Llewellyn, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 10/13/2017)
2017-10-2612MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 9 MOTION for Summary Judgment , 10 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 10/26/2017)
2017-10-26MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 12 Motion for Extension of Time. Defendant shall file its Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion and Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before November 3, 2017, and Plaintiff shall file her Reply in Support of her Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before December 1, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 10/26/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 10/26/2017)
2017-10-26Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Defendant's response to Cross Motion due by 11/3/2017. Plaintiff's reply to Cross Motion due by 12/1/2017. Defendant's reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 11/3/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 10/28/2017)
2017-11-0313Second MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 9 MOTION for Summary Judgment , 10 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 11/03/2017)
2017-11-03MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 13 Second Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time. Defendant shall file its Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion and Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on or before November 9, 2017, and Plaintiff shall file her Reply in Support of her Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on or before December 7, 2017. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 11/03/2017. (lcapm1) (Entered: 11/03/2017)
2017-11-03Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Response to Cross Motion due by 11/9/2017. Reply to Cross Motion due by 12/7/2017. Reply to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 11/9/2017. (zcdw) (Entered: 11/05/2017)
2017-11-0914REPLY to opposition to motion re 9 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of William Rowe, # 2 Declaration of Corrina Smith)(Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) Modified link on 11/13/2017 (znmw). (Entered: 11/09/2017)
2017-11-0915Memorandum in opposition to re 10 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. (See Docket Entry 14 to view document). (znmw) (Entered: 11/13/2017)
2017-12-05Case directly reassigned to Judge Dabney L. Friedrich. Judge Amit P. Mehta is no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr) (Entered: 12/05/2017)
2017-12-0716REPLY to opposition to motion re 10 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by MARGARET B. KWOKA. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Margaret B. Kwoka)(Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 12/07/2017)
2018-09-2817ORDER granting in part and denying in part defendant's 9 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's 10 Motion for Summary Judgment. See order for details. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on September 28, 2018. (lcdlf1) (Entered: 09/28/2018)
2018-09-2818MEMORANDUM OPINION regarding defendant's 9 Motion for Summary Judgment and plaintiff's 10 Motion for Summary Judgment. See order for details. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on September 28, 2018. (lcdlf1) (Entered: 09/28/2018)
2018-10-1719Joint STATUS REPORT by MARGARET B. KWOKA. (Llewellyn, Patrick) (Entered: 10/17/2018)
2018-10-18MINUTE ORDER granting the defendant's request for additional time in accordance with the parties' 19 Joint Status Report. The parties shall file an updated joint status report with a proposed production schedule on or before October 26, 2018. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on October 18, 2018. (lcdlf2) (Entered: 10/18/2018)
2018-10-2620Joint STATUS REPORT by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. (Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 10/26/2018)
2018-10-27SCHEDULING ORDER. Upon consideration of the parties' 20 Joint Status Report, the Court orders the defendant to produce documents according to the following schedule. The defendant shall make the first release of records on or before January 24, 2019, the second release of records on or before February 25, 2019, the third release of records on or before March 25, 2019, and the fourth and final release of records on or before April 25, 2019. The Court expects the defendant to meet each of these deadlines and will not grant additional extensions. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on October 27, 2018. (lcdlf2) (Entered: 10/27/2018)
2018-12-2621MOTION to Stay by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 12/26/2018)
2018-12-27MINUTE ORDER granting the defendant's 21 Motion to Stay. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that all proceedings in this matter are STAYED until appropriations are restored. It is FURTHER ORDERED that within five days of appropriations being restored, the parties shall file a joint status report proposing a schedule for further proceedings. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on December 27, 2018. (lcdlf2) (Entered: 12/27/2018)
2019-01-3022Joint STATUS REPORT by INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. (Hoffman-Logsdon, Megan) (Entered: 01/30/2019)
2019-01-30MINUTE ORDER adopting the proposal in the parties' 22 Joint Status Report. The parties shall file another joint status report on or before June 28, 2019. Signed by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich on January 30, 2019. (lcdlf2) (Entered: 01/30/2019)
2019-01-30Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Status Report due by 6/28/2019. (jl) (Entered: 01/30/2019)
Hide Docket Events
by FOIA Project Staff
Skip to toolbar