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Nat'l Archives & Records Admin. v. Favish

Supreme Court of the United States

December 3, 2003, Argued ; March 30, 2004, Decided

No. 02-954

Opinion

 [*160]   [**1573]  Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

LEdHN[1A][] [1A] LEdHN[2A][] [2A] This case requires us to interpret HN1[] the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 [5 USCS § 552].  [**1574]  FOIA does not apply if the requested data fall within one or more exemptions.  [****8]  Exemption 7(C) excuses from disclosure "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" if their production "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." § 552(b)(7)(C).

In  Department of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 103 L. Ed. 2d 774, 109 S. Ct. 1468 (1989), we considered the scope of Exemption 7(C) and held that release of the document at issue would be a prohibited invasion of the personal privacy of the person to whom the document referred. The principal document involved was the criminal record, or rap sheet, of the person who himself objected to the disclosure. Here, the information pertains to an official investigation into the circumstances surrounding an apparent suicide. The initial question is whether the exemption extends to the decedent's family when the family objects to the release of photographs showing the condition of the body at the scene of death. If we find the decedent's family does have a personal privacy interest recognized by the statute, we must then consider whether that privacy claim is outweighed by the public interest in disclosure.

Vincent Foster, Jr., deputy counsel to [****9]  President Clinton, was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, located just outside  [*161]  Washington, D. C. The United States Park Police conducted the initial investigation and took color photographs of the death scene,  [***328]  including 10 pictures of Foster's body. The investigation concluded that Foster committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. Subsequent investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and independent counsels Robert Fiske and Kenneth Starr reached the same conclusion. Despite the unanimous finding of these five investigations, a citizen interested in the matter, Allan Favish, remained skeptical. Favish is now a respondent in this proceeding. In an earlier proceeding, Favish was the associate counsel for Accuracy in Media (AIM), which applied under FOIA for Foster's death-scene photographs. After the National Park Service, which then maintained custody of the pictures, resisted disclosure, Favish filed suit on behalf of AIM in the District Court for the District of Columbia to compel production. The District Court granted summary judgment against AIM. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously [****10]  affirmed.  Accuracy in Media, Inc. v. National Park Serv., 338 U.S. App. D.C. 330, 194 F.3d 120 (1999).

Still convinced that the Government's investigations were "'grossly incomplete and untrustworthy,'" App. to Pet. for Cert. 57a, Favish filed the present FOIA request in his own name, seeking, among other things, 11 pictures, 1 showing Foster's eyeglasses and 10 depicting various parts of Foster's body. Like the National Park Service, the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) refused the request under Exemption 7(C).

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541 U.S. 157 *; 124 S. Ct. 1570 **; 158 L. Ed. 2d 319 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 2546 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4265; 32 Media L. Rep. 1545; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 208

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, Petitioner v. ALLAN J. FAVISH et al.

Subsequent History:  [****1]  

US Supreme Court rehearing denied by  Nat'l Archives & Records Admin. v. Favish, 541 U.S. 1057, 158 L. Ed. 2d 759, 124 S. Ct. 2198, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 3640 (U.S., May 17, 2004)

On remand at, Remanded by  Favish v. Nat'l Archives & Records Admin., 368 F.3d 1072, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 9830 (9th Cir., May 20, 2004)

Prior History: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

 Favish v. Office of Indep. Counsel, 37 Fed. Appx. 863, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 10895 (2002)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

Exemption, disclosure, photographs, personal privacy, privacy, privacy interest, deceased, public interest, requester, pictures, records, family member, common law, investigations, surviving, courts, unwarranted invasion, invasion, cases, right to privacy, misfeasance, documents, Media

Administrative Law, Defenses & Exemptions From Public Disclosure, Law Enforcement Records, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Substantive Due Process, Privacy, Personal Information, Governmental Information, Freedom of Information, Methods of Disclosure, Record Requests, Medical & Personnel Files, Personal Decisions, Criminal Law & Procedure, Search & Seizure, Expectation of Privacy