Plaintiff sues Defendant under FOIA, and while the case is pending another court issues a ruling adverse to their suit.
A judgement blocking disclosure of documents in a reverse FOIA action does not necessarily preclude future information requesters from filing suit under FOIA for disclosure of the same information.
Plaintiff Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against Defendant Commission for their failure to disclose information relating to the safety of tvs. The District Court for the District of Columbia found that there was no case or controversy present in the suit because Defendant Commission was open to sharing data with Plaintiff. But, a lot of the information fell under the purview of a preliminary injunction given to tv manufacturers through a reverse FOIA action filed in the District Court for the District of Delaware. Plaintiff Union appealed the District Court of Columbia’s finding. The Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the preliminary injunction was temporary and that Plaintiff Union’s suit could continue because the District Court for the District of Delaware had not yet rendered a final judgement in that case. The Delaware District Court eventually issued a permanent injunction while the case was pending certiorari from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals for it to make a finding on Plaintiff Union’s ability to bring the FOIA suit in light of the Delaware court’s permanent injunction.
Does a judgement blocking the disclosure of information through a reverse FOIA action prevent future information requesters from filing suit under FOIA for disclosure of the same information?
No, a judgement blocking the disclosure of information through a reverse FOIA action does not necessarily prevent future information requesters from filing suit under FOIA for disclosure of the same information. The case is remanded to the district court to determine whether the FOIA request should be granted.
1. FOIA was passed to create uniformity for government agency disclosure, and also sought to balance the public’s right to access information with the government’s interest in confidentiality.
2. It is problematic if the FOIA decision of one court became binding on all other circuits because its decision would preclude all other information seekers and blockers from bringing suit.
3. This court could dismiss the suit in the D.C. Circuit based on the Delaware Circuit Court’s decision based on stare decisis, collateral estoppel, or comity.
4. Stare decisis is not dispositive because it is not likely that a federal judge would give deference to the decision made by another circuit court with which he disagreed.
5. Collateral estoppel prevents nonparties from litigating an issue that has already been litigated only on rare occasions. This is no such case.
6. Comity does not overrun the nonparties’ constitutional right to have their claims adjudicated.
7. The Union was not a party to or present in the Delaware proceedings and thus should not be barred from bringing its FOIA claim.
8. The case is remanded to the district court to determine whether the FOIA request should be granted.