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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. National Institutes of Health

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20059
Nos. 12-5183, (D.C. Cir., 03/14/2014)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a lower court decision rejecting an animal rights group's FOIA request for records concerning National Institutes of Health (NIH) investigations of animal abuse at a university research lab. NIH issued "Glomar" responses, meaning that the agency refused to confirm or deny the existence of responsive documents on the ground that acknowledging their existence would itself undercut privacy interests protected by FOIA. The lower court agreed and upheld NIH’s Glomar responses under FOIA Exemption 7(C), which permits withholding law enforcement information or records if disclosure could entail an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part, holding that NIH’s Glomar responses were appropriate as to any documents that would reveal whether NIH had investigated the three researchers. But the group's FOIA request encompassed additional types of documents that would not disclose any investigations of the three researchers. The lower court's grant of summary judgment in favor of NIH was therefore reversed in part.