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American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

February 1, 2018

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; Asian Law Caucus; San Francisco Bay Guardian, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted October 19, 2017 San Francisco, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California No. 3:10-cv-03759-RS, Richard Seeborg, District Judge, Presiding

          August E. Flentje (argued) and H. Thomas Byron III, Appellate Staff; Brian Stretch, United States Attorney; Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, San Francisco, California; for Defendant-Appellant.

          Angela Elaine Kleine (argued), Jacob P. Ewerdt, and Somnath Raj Chatterjee, Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Francisco, California; Christina Sinha, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, San Francisco, California; Lynda Lye and Julia Harumi Mass, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California Inc., San Francisco, California; for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          Before: Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges, and James S. Gwin, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Freedom of Information Act

         The panel vacated the district court's summary judgment that was entered in favor of the plaintiffs who had submitted Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") requests to the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and remanded for further proceedings.

         Exemption 7 of FOIA governs disclosure of records or information complied for law enforcement purposes.

         The panel held that for generalized records, such as training manuals and guidelines, the government's burden under Exemption 7 of demonstrating that withheld materials were "complied for law enforcement purposes" can be satisfied without linking the documents to the enforcement of a particular statute. The panel further held that the agency need only establish a rational nexus between the withheld document and its authorized law enforcement activities. If such a showing is made, the district court can then determine whether disclosure would cause any of the specific harms identified in Exemptions 7(A)-(F), 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(7)(A)-(F). The panel expressed no opinion as to whether the documents at issue in this case met the Exemption 7 threshold, nor whether those that do are protected from disclosure under Exemption 7(A)-(F). The panel remanded for the district court to make such determinations in the first instance.

          OPINION

          HURWITZ, Circuit Judge

         This case requires us to once again construe Exemption 7 of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7), which governs disclosure of "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes."

         In analyzing FOIA requests to law enforcement agencies for disclosure of investigatory materials, we have long held that the government need only show a "rational nexus" between enforcement of federal law and a withheld document to invoke Exemption 7. See, e.g., Rosenfeld v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 57 F.3d 803, 808 (9th Cir. 1995). But, we have not yet decided whether the same standard governs requests for more generalized records, such as training manuals and guidelines.

         We today hold that for such records, the government's burden under Exemption 7 of demonstrating that withheld materials were "compiled for law enforcement purposes" can be satisfied without linking the ...


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