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PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES LEGAL FORMS ASK A LAWYER

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

Congress enacted FOIA ''to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.'' Dept of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 72 ('76). The Act's 'basic purpose reflect[s] 'a general philosophy of full agency disclosure unless information is exempted under clearly delineated statutory language.'' Id. at 360-61 (quoting S. Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 ('65)).

FOIA confers jurisdiction on a district court to prevent an agency from withholding records, unless the information sought falls within one of the nine exemptions enumerated in 552(b). The Supreme Court has explained that 'federal jurisdiction [to order disclosure] is dependent on a showing that an agency has (1) 'improperly' (2) 'withheld' (3) 'agency records.' ' Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150 ('80). 'Unless each of these criteria is met, a district court lacks jurisdiction to devise remedies to force an agency to comply with the FOIA's disclosure requirements.' Dept of Justice v. Tax Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 142 ('89).

Thus, if agency records do not fall within one of the nine exemptions, they have been ''improperly withheld'' and must be disclosed. On the other hand, '[i]f an agency refuses to disclose agency records that indisputably fall within one of the subsection (b) exemptions, the agency has 'withheld' the records, albeit not 'improperly' given the legislative authorization to do so.' Id. at 153 n.13. Accord FBI v. Abramson, 456 U.S. 615, 631 ('82) ('Once it is established that [disclosure of] information . . . would lead to one of the listed harms, the information is exempt. Congress thus created a scheme of categorical exclusion; it did not invite a judicial weighing of the benefits and evils of disclosure on a case-by-case basis.').

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