Cause of Action Institute v. Department of Justice, No. 20-5182 (D.C. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
COA submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, request, seeking access to specified Department of Justice (DOJ) records. The response indicated that 143 pages contained records that were responsive to the request. Three cover letters and four Questions for the Record (QFR) documents were identified as responsive, each contains questions posed by members of Congress and, for two of the documents, the corresponding answers provided by DOJ. Each document is self-contained, with a single, overarching heading. The questions and answers in each document are consecutively numbered, and all but one of the documents has consecutively numbered pages. DOJ removed pages and redacted material from those documents without claiming exemption from disclosure under FOIA but claiming that these pages and material need not be disclosed because they constitute “Non-Responsive Record[s].” COA filed suit.
The D.C. Circuit held that DOJ’s position is untenable. Once an agency identifies a record it deems responsive, FOIA compels disclosure of the responsive record as a unit except insofar as the agency may redact information falling within a statutory exemption. FOIA calls for disclosure of a responsive record, not just responsive information within a record. Each of the QFR documents constitutes a unitary record, as demonstrated by DOJ’s own treatment of those documents. A challenge to DOJ’s alleged policy or practice of segmenting one record into multiple records to avoid disclosure was unripe.