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Story of Stuff Project v. United States Forest Service

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20020
Nos. 1:18-cv-00170 (TNM), (D.D.C., 02/04/2019) (McFadden, J.)

A district court granted in part and denied in part an environmental group's motion for summary judgment against the U.S. Forest Service and USDA for failure to disclose under FOIA information about a water bottling company's license to operate in the San Bernadino National Forest. The group argued that the agencies improperly withheld information under FOIA's exemptions for trade secrets, deliberative process, and wells. But the court found the agencies properly withheld this information because it included details about the company's infrastructure that, if disclosed, could competitively harm the company; reflected internal comments and discussions relating to the company's ongoing permit review process that was pre-decisional and deliberative; and included references to boreholes, a type of well. The group also argued that the agencies improperly withheld information under FOIA's exemption for personnel, medical, or similar files. The court found the agencies inappropriately invoked this exemption when it withheld names of consultants and scientists who prepared reports for its permit renewal because a substantial invasion of privacy would not occur. Moreover, the public's interest in disclosure outweighed any privacy interests because the public has a plausible interest in evaluating the individuals' qualifications. The court therefore granted in part and denied in part the group's motion.