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Exemption 2 of the FOIA Only Applies to “Personnel” Matters, Supreme Court Holds

Exemption 2 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which bars the disclosure of records “relayed solely to the internal personnel rules and practices at an agency,” is limited to documents that “concern the conditions of employment in federal agencies—such matters as hiring and firing, work rules and discipline, compensation and benefits,” the U.S. Supreme Court decided March 7, 2011.

For nearly 30 years, the prevailing view amongst the Court of Appeals was that Exemption 2 applied to any “predominantly internal” documents. Citing this construction of Exemption 2, the plaintiff was denied copies of maps and explosives data in possession of the Navy.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed. By applying Exemption 2 to any “predominately internal” documents, the Court held, the lower courts had essentially read the “personnel” aspect of Exemption 2 out of the statutes. “Exemption 2, consistent with the plain meaning of the term ‘personnel rules and practices,’ encompasses only records relating to issues of employee relations and human resources,” the Court wrote. See: Milner v. Department of the Navy, 131 S.Ct. 1259 (2011).

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Related legal case

Milner v. Department of the Navy