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Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

ELR Citation: 49 ELR 20159
Nos. 17-1073 (EGS), (D.D.C., 09/27/2019) (Sullivan, J.)

A district court denied a motion for summary judgment against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Customs and Border Protection for failure to disclose under FOIA information related to construction of a wall along the Mexican border. An environmental group argued the agencies improperly withheld information under FOIA's exemption for inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a party other than the agency in litigation. The court found the agencies adequately explained that they withheld information about law enforcement capability gaps at the border and discussions about how to address those vulnerabilities because their disclosure could affect future intra-agency policy discussions. The group also argued the agencies improperly withheld information under FOIA's exemption for personnel, medical, or similar files. The court found the agencies properly invoked this exemption when they withheld names of lower-level federal employees who appeared on documents concerning the United States-Mexico border because the employees' interest in avoiding harassment outweighed the interest of public disclosure, which was moderated by the agencies' release of names of higher-ranking personnel. Lastly, the group argued the agencies improperly withheld information under FOIA's exemption for material collected for law enforcement purposes. The court found the agencies properly withheld records concerning their assessment of border vulnerabilities and information used to prevent or detect illegal entry of people because they were directly related to potential violations of federal immigration laws. It therefore granted the agencies' motion for summary judgment.