Description: Action to compel disclosure of State Department employee correspondence regarding international climate negotiations.
Energy & Environment Legal Institute v. U.S. Department of State
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 08/28/2017 Memorandum Opinion Download Case dismissed. Virginia Federal Court Dismissed FOIA Lawsuit Seeking State Department Correspondence About Climate Change . The federal district court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of State in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by two organizations that sought correspondence between five State Department employees and environmental organizations and the employees’ correspondence containing the following terms: global warming, climate change, Paris, UNCCC, UNFCC, Kyoto, and APEC. The court’s decision addressed one plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment challenging redactions in 10 documents produced by the State Department and the State Department’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff contended that the 10 documents were a small sample of unjustified redactions and partial withholdings representing improper application of FOIA Exemptions 1 (for classified material), 5 (for predecisional intra- or inter-agency documents), and 6 (for personnel and medical files that would constitute an invasion of privacy). The court found that the State Department had provided sufficient information about documents withheld pursuant to Exemption 1 to demonstrate that they were properly encompassed by the exemption and that the timing of the State Department’s classification of the information as confidential was not automatically invalid based on its timing. The court also rejected challenges to redactions based on Exemption 5. The redacted information in one document related to formulating a response to a foreign official and to internal discussions about possible topics for a future meeting; redacted information in a second document was a draft list of names of “possible validators of … climate change work.” A third document redacted discussions of potential State Department engagement with congressional staff. The court also concluded that documents were properly redacted based on Exemption 6 to exclude private and personal conversation between two individuals concerning career matters, the draft climate change “validators” list, and a summary of conversations between a private individual and Indian officials. The court also ruled that the second plaintiff could not file an additional motion for summary judgment and that this opinion therefore concluded the case.