Rojas v. FAA, No. 17-17349 (9th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act of 1974, seeking FAA records related to the Biographical Assessment, a screening tool introduced by the FAA in 2014 as part of the air traffic controller hiring process.
The panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the FAA based on Exemption 2 of FOIA and Exemption (k)(6) of the Privacy Act, which allowed the FAA to withhold from plaintiff the minimum passing score and plaintiff's own score on the Biographical Assessment. Where FAA employees used personal email addresses to receive information relating to the FAA's change in selecting air traffic controllers, the panel held that plaintiff has carried his burden of showing that the FAA employees' privacy interest in their personal email addresses was outweighed by the robust interest of citizens' right to know what their government was up to in making the changes it did. The court also held that there was no genuine issue of material fact that Exemption 6 does not apply to the personal email addresses of the recipients of the Barrier Analysis document containing FAA information relating to the selection of air traffic controllers. The panel reasoned that the FAA could satisfy its obligation under FOIA by identifying the email recipients by name, instead of revealing the recipients' personal email addresses. In regard to 202 emails withheld by the FAA as agency records, the panel vacated the district court's order and remanded to the district court to apply the second prong of the test set forth in Tax Analysts v. U.S. Dep't of Justice.