The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in World Publishing Co. v. United States Dep’t of Justice on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner is publisher of the Tulsa World newspaper and appeals from the district court’s judgment that Respondents properly withheld six booking photographs (mug shots) requested by Tulsa World. Tulsa World requested the photos under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the government relied upon Exemption 7(C) to withhold them. On appeal, Tulsa World argues that the district court erred in granting the government’s motion for summary judgment and denying it discovery so that it might better respond to that motion.
“Congress enacted the FOIA to ‘open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.’ There are certain instances, however, when Congress has deemed disclosure inappropriate; these exceptions are covered by 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). The government bears the burden of demonstrating that the request falls into one of the enumerated exceptions, and we construe narrowly in favor of disclosure.” A three-part test has is generally followed to determine if information is covered by Exemption 7(C): “A court must (1) determine if the information was gathered for a law enforcement purpose; (2) determine whether there is a personal privacy interest at stake; and if there is (3) balance the privacy interest against the public interest in disclosure.” It is undisputed that the photos were taken for a law enforcement purpose. The Court, however, determined that “a booking photo is intended for use only by a specific and small group of people,” which provides reason for a court to protect an individual’s privacy interest in that photo. Also, while the paper suggests that several public interests will be furthered by disclosing the photos, the Court found that Tulsa World’s request would not further the purpose of the FOIA. Lastly, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying discovery.