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Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued October 8, 1975 ; April 21, 1976

No. 74-489

Opinion

 [*354]  [***17]  [**1596]    MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents, student editors or former student editors of the New York University Law Review researching  [*355]  disciplinary systems and  [***18]  procedures at the military service academies [****7]  for an article for the Law Review, 1 were denied access by petitioners to case summaries of honor and ethics hearings, with personal references or other identifying information deleted, maintained in the United States Air Force Academy's Honor and Ethics Code reading files, although Academy practice is to post copies of such summaries on 40 squadron bulletin boards throughout the Academy and to distribute copies to Academy faculty and administration officials. 2 Thereupon respondents  [**1597]  brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act, as amended, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (1970 ed. and Supp. V), in the District Court for the Southern District of New York against petitioners, the Department  [*356]  of the Air Force and Air Force officers who supervise cadets at the United States Air Force Academy (hereinafter collectively the Agency). 3 The District Court  [***19]  granted petitioner Agency's motion for summary judgment  [*357]  - without first requiring production of the case summaries for inspection - holding in an unreported opinion that case summaries even with deletions of personal references or other identifying information were "matters.  [****8]  .. related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency," exempted from mandatory disclosure by § 552 (b)(2) of the statute. 4 The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that § 552 (b)(2) did not exempt the case summaries from mandatory disclosure. 495 F. 2d 261 (1974). The Agency argued alternatively, however, that the case summaries constituted "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," exempted from mandatory disclosure by § 552 (b)(6).  The District Court held this exemption inapplicable to the case summaries, because it concluded that disclosure of the summaries without names or other identifying information would not subject any former cadet to public identification and stigma, and the possibility of identification by another former cadet could not, in the context of the Academy's practice of distribution and official posting of the summaries, constitute an invasion of personal privacy proscribed by  [**1598]  § 552 (b)(6).  [*358]  Pet. for Cert. 32A. The Court of Appeals disagreed with this approach, stating that [****9]  it "ignores certain practical realities" which militated against the conclusion "that the Agency's internal dissemination of the summaries lessens the concerned cadets' right to privacy, as embodied in Exemption six." 495 F. 2d, at 267. But the court refused to hold, on the one hand, either "that [the Agency] must now, without any prior inspection by a court, turn over the summaries to [respondents] with only the proper names removed…" or, on the other hand, "that Exemption Six covers all, or any part of, the summaries in issue." Id., at 268. Rather, the Court of Appeals held that because the Agency had not carried its burden in the District Court, imposed by the Act, of "sustain[ing] its action" by means of affidavits or testimony, further inquiry was required, and "the Agency must now produce the summaries themselves in court" for an in camera inspection S

"and cooperate with the judge in redacting the records so as to delete personal references and all other identifying information…. We think it highly likely that the combined skills of court and Agency, applied to the summaries, will yield edited documents  [***20]  sufficient for the purpose [****10]  sought and sufficient as well to safeguard affected persons in their legitimate claims of privacy." Ibid. (Footnotes omitted.)I

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425 U.S. 352 *; 96 S. Ct. 1592 **; 48 L. Ed. 2d 11 ***; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 97 ****; 1 Media L. Rep. 2509

DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE ET AL. v. ROSE ET AL.

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

CORE TERMS

Exemption, files, disclosure, Academy, personal privacy, personnel, unwarranted invasion, records, matters, personnel file, district court, privacy, military, Ethics, freedom of information, deleted, Codes, cases, invasion, regulation, withholding, practices, legislative history, discipline, courts, personnel rules, confidentiality, unwarranted, public interest, redaction

Administrative Law, Governmental Information, Freedom of Information, General Overview, Defenses & Exemptions From Public Disclosure, Internal Personnel Rules, Medical & Personnel Files, Healthcare Law, Medical Treatment, Patient Confidentiality, Methods of Disclosure, Enforcement, In Camera Inspections