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Chesapeake Bay Found. v. Department of Agric.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 21072
Nos. 89-1943, 917 F. Supp. 64/(D.D.C., 03/07/1996) attorney fees awarded

The court holds that an environmental organization may recover attorney fees for prevailing in its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the U.S Department of Agriculture for the release of documents relating to pesticide use in Maryland. The court first holds that FOIA Exemption 3, which excludes from FOIA any information protected from disclosure by another statute, did not provide the government with a legal basis to withhold the documents. The government claimed that because the Food Security Act prohibits disclosure of information to the public that would identify the person supplying the information, it could not release the pesticide-use documents, because the identities of the public agencies that provided the pesticide data would be revealed. The court notes that the information sought did not reveal the identity of any "person," only the name of the county or agency that provided the data. "Person" does not encompass public agencies.

Applying a four-factor balancing test to determine whether the environmental organization is entitled to attorneys fees, the court holds the government's legal basis for withholding the documents was flawed. Moreover, the environmental organization had no commercial interest in the information but rather was attempting to ascertain whether the level of pesticide use created a public safety hazard. In addition, its use of the requested information clearly benefitted the public. These factors, combined with the fact that the court finds the case was unnecessary, entitle the environmental organization to attorney fees.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 24 ELR 20228.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
Nancy Curnen
Crisman, Stohlman, Beuchert, Egan & Smith
1440 New York Ave. NW, Washington DC 20005
(202) 371-7330

Counsel for Defendant
Charles F. Flynn, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
555 4th St. NW, Washington DC 20001
(202) 514-7566