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Chesapeake Bay Found. v. Corps of Eng'rs

Citation: 40 ELR 20013
No. No. 09-1054, (D.D.C., 12/30/2009)

A district court denied the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' motion to dismiss an environmental group's FOIA action seeking records pertaining to permits for development on two islands in the in the Magothy River, a tributary of the Chesapeake River. The Corps argued that it properly withheld the records from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 5 and 7. But the Corps' declarations in support of withholding the records are nothing more than "vague, broad, and wholesale claims of exempt status." The court, therefore, cannot assess the propriety of the Corps' withholdings on the basis of these declarations. The Corps also submitted a "Vaughn" index, providing dates and brief descriptions of the withheld records. But the index does not describe how the asserted exemptions apply to the withheld documents. Nevertheless, the asserted justifications may be valid as to at least some of the withheld records. Accordingly, the court did not grant summary judgment in favor of the group on their FOIA claims. Rather, if the Corps wishes to maintain its exemption claims, it must supplement its Vaughn index and declarations, adequately describing the records withheld and specifically detailing how the claimed exemptions apply to the withheld information.