January 01, 2017

In Brief

Theodore L. Garrett

FOIA

American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, 836 F.3d 963 (8th Cir. 2016).
The Eighth Circuit reversed a district court decision dismissing a “reverse” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) disclosure of information concerning concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In response to FOIA requests by three environmental organizations concerning CAFOs, EPA released information gathered from 19 states and from EPA’s data systems. The Farm Bureau brought an action under the Administrative Procedure Act to prevent EPA from making additional information available and requiring EPA to recall the information it has already released. In particular, plaintiffs complained that the information included personal information about CAFO owners, such as names, home addresses, telephone numbers, GPS coordinates, and information from which financial information could be gleaned. The court rejected EPA’s argument that FOIA Exemption 6 does not apply because the information was available in the public domain, stating CAFO owners “still have a privacy interest in preventing the mass aggregation and release of their personal information.” The court also rejected the government’s argument that the privacy interest was outweighed by the public’s interest in disclosure, stating that the disclosure of such information as names, phone numbers “does not directly shed light on the agency’s performance of its statutory duties.” The opinion noted that other records, some in redacted form, could address public interests without invading personal privacy.

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