Description: Action to compel production of NOAA documents concerning climate data and related records in connection with congressional subpoena.
Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Department of Commerce
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 08/21/2017 Opinion and Order Download Defendant's motion for summary judgment granted. D.C. Federal Court Upheld NOAA’s Withholding of Predecisional Documents Related to “Hiatus Study”. The federal district court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to the U.S. Department of Commerce in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking documents in the possession of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) related to a study by several NOAA scientists known as the “Hiatus Paper.” The Hiatus Paper found that recent ocean surface temperature increases were greater than other studies had indicated, and that there had been no “hiatus” in ocean warming as some had argued. The court’s decision concerned three sets of documents withheld by NOAA under FOIA’s Exemption 5 for inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters—drafts of the Hiatus Paper, internal correspondence among NOAA scientists about the Hiatus Paper, and outside peer reviewer comments. The court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the withheld documents were not within Exemption 5’s scope because they concerned science, not policy. The district court said D.C. Circuit precedent resolved this question in NOAA’s favor. The court also found that the plaintiff had not presented evidence “sufficient to raise the specter of such nefarious government misconduct” as would be required to override Exemption 5. (The court also noted that the D.C. Circuit had never held that government misconduct could abrogate Exemption 5.) The district court also found that the Department of Commerce had adequately alleged that it had released all reasonably segregable material and that the plaintiff had provided no evidence to contradict those allegations. 03/17/2017 Brief Download Brief filed by U.S. Department of Commerce opposing summary judgment for plaintiffs and in support of summary judgment for Department of Commerce. 03/09/2017 Amicus Brief Download Amicus brief field by Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, American Meteorological Society, and Union of Concerned Scientists in support of defendant. 02/22/2017 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Motion for partial summary judgment filed by plaintiff. Summary Judgment Motions Filed in FOIA Dispute Over Records Related to NOAA Scientists’ “Hiatus” Paper. Competing motions for summary judgment were filed in the dispute in D.C. federal court over the disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists’ records and communications concerning temperature data and a paper ultimately published in the journal Science. The paper “sought to properly account for the alleged ‘hiatus,’ ” or slowing of global temperatures increases, between 1998 and 2012. In its cross-motion for partial summary judgment, Judicial Watch, the organization seeking the documents, contended that the documents withheld based on Exemption 5 were not validly exempt because they were “factual, investigative, scientific research related to a study published in a non-agency, peer-review journal.” Judicial Watch also asserted that information revealed by a former NOAA scientist to a British news blog in February 2017 had provided evidence of NOAA misconduct that should defeat any privilege. Judicial Watch also said that NOAA had not produced “reasonably segregable” non-exempt information. 02/10/2017 Response Download Response filed by plaintiff to amicus motion. Judicial Watch opposed the participation of three organizations as amici curiae, arguing that the “perspective” offered by the organizations was merely a “veiled attack” on Judicial Watch and its motives for requesting the documents, and that the proposed brief did not provide additional analysis that would benefit the court. 01/27/2017 Amicus Brief Download Proposed amicus brief filed. 01/27/2017 Amicus Motion Download Motion filed for leave to file brief as amici curiae in support of defendant. Three Organizations Sought to File Amicus Brief Supporting NOAA Scientists in FOIA Action. Three organizations—Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, American Meteorological Society, and Union of Concerned Scientists—filed a motion seeking permission to participate as amici curiae and filed a proposed brief. They asserted that they had a special interest in the case because of their commitment to “ensuring robust, independent scientific research into vitally important subjects like climate change.” The organizations expressed concern that disclosure of the records sought by Judicial Watch would “significantly damage government scientists’ ability and willingness to conduct research into politically charged subjects like climate change.” The organizations also told the court that they had relevant expertise and familiarity with the issues presented by the case that could benefit the court’s consideration of the case. 12/15/2016 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Motion for summary judgment filed by defendant. In its motion for summary judgment, NOAA argued that the records search it had conducted under agreed-upon parameters was reasonable and adequate, and that it had properly withheld certain records—(1) drafts of the paper; (2) internal deliberations, including email exchanges; and (3) formal and informal peer review materials—based on the deliberative process privilege of FOIA Exemption 5. NOAA said disclosure of such materials would “chill the open and frank exchange of comments and opinions that NOAA officials engage in.” 12/02/2015 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Group Filed FOIA Lawsuit Seeking Production of NOAA Climate Documents. Judicial Watch, a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. Judicial Watch alleged that NOAA had failed to respond to the foundation’s request for documents and records of communications concerning certain climate data and related press releases, as well as records related to a subpoena issued by Congressman Lamar Smith for the same categories of records. Judicial Watch asked the court to order NOAA to search for and produce the responsive records. In a December 22 press release, Judicial Watch said that NOAA had submitted the requested documents to Congress after the complaint was filed.