DC Court Denies FOIA Request for Certain Audit Trails
In Bagwell v. U.S. Dept. of Education, Case No. 15-334 (D.D.C., Apr. 26, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendant after submitting a FOIA request to Defendant and receiving limited, redacted materials (of the 54,000 pages it found that were responsive). Defendant asserted that it withheld certain records based upon various FOIA exemptions. Included in Plaintiff’s request was a request for audit trails and documents to support the validity of Penn State’s crime statistics. Defendant withheld every document responsive to this request pursuant to Exemptions 7(A) and 7(E).
The court looked at the Clery Act, which requires universities participating in federal financial aid programs to collect and disclose certain information about crime on campus. Defendant’s responsive documents were part of an internal quality control process. Exemption 7(A) of FOIA exempts from disclosure “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes”. Defendant claims the records must be protected because they are part of an ongoing program review, which is a law enforcement activity, and release of such information “could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings”. The court agreed. With respect to Exemption 7(E), which exempts from FOIA any records that would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations if disclosure would risk “circumvention of the law.” The court also agreed with Defendant as to this exemption and ordered that the audit trails and documents need not be turned over to Plaintiff.