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HRDC Wins FOIA Lawsuit filed in Washington State for Unredacted ICE Documents

On March 20, 2018, HRDC had asked ICE to provide documents regarding litigation against ICE or its agents from January 1, 2010 until March 20, 2018.That request sought complaints, judgments, verdicts, and settlements on claims related to non-traffic incidents where the government paid $1,000 or more and for traffic incidents where the payout was $50,000 or more.

ICE denied the request on June 20, 2018, asserting the FOIA request was “too broad in scope, did not specifically identify record which [HRDC is] seeking, and only posed questions to the agency.” HRDC sued on August 3, 2018, alleging violations of the FOIA. In a March 2019 Joint Status Report, ICE acknowledged that HRDC was entitled to the documents subject to any exemptions.

ICE asserted two exemptions under 5 U.S.C. Sections 552(b)(6) and 552(b)(7)(C). They are known as Exemptions 6 and 7(C) to justify the redaction of names, email addresses, and phone numbers of ICE employees and other individuals in the records. After HRDC was unsuccessful in persuading ICE to change its stance on redaction and the trial date was struck,

HRDC moved for summary judgment on Exemption 6, applying to “personnel and medical files and similar files” and protecting against disclosure that “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The court recognized that employees accused of wrongfully detaining U.S. citizens is “stigmatizing to both the claimants and tortfeasors, as both could be subject to lifelong embarrassment or disgrace.”

The court, however, found two reasons that the privacy issues were diminished. First, it found the names of relevant ICE personnel were publicly available on the underlying case docket report. Second, as to ICE employees, the alleged “misfeasance relating to their official duties” further diminished any privacy interest in nondisclosure.

Exemption 7(C) is limited to “records or information compiled for law enforces purposes,” and it is more protective of privacy interests. While ICE satisfied the threshold requirement for that exemption, the court found the public interest in disclosure outweighed the litigants’ privacy interests.

In finding there is no invasion of a privacy interest by disclosure of names in the documents, the court agreed with HRDC that the identities are necessary to determine whether the “accused a are multiple offenders, how much taxpayer money has been used to resolve claims against those [employees], and whether they continue to be employed by ICE.”

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Related legal case

Human. Rights Def. Ctr. v. United States Dep’t of Homeland Secretary