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Where the situation is not one where disclosure may risk circumvention of agency regulation, 5 U.S.C.S. § 552(b)(2) is not applicable to matters subject to such a genuine and significant public interest. The exemption was not designed to authorize withholding of all matters except otherwise secret law bearing directly on the propriety of actions of members of the public. Rather, the general thrust of the exemption is simply to relieve agencies of the burden of assembling and maintaining for public inspection matter in which the public could not reasonably be expected to have an interest.
Student editors and former student editors of the New York University Law Review, after being denied access to case summaries of Air Force Academy hearings as to cadets' violations of the Academy's Honor and Ethics Codes, with personal references or other identifying information deleted, instituted an action against the Department of the Air Force and certain of its officers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to compel disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USCS 552). Without first requiring production of the case summaries for inspection, the District Court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that although the summaries were not exempt from disclosure under the Act's sixth exemption – which exempted from disclosure personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy - nevertheless the summaries were exempt under the Act's second exemption ( 552(b)(2)) – which exempted from disclosure matters related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that 552(b)(2) was not applicable, and that the summaries should be produced for the District Court's in camera inspection and redaction of identifying material to safeguard the privacy of affected persons under 552(b)(6). A writ of certiorari was granted.
Did the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.S. § 552(b)(2), exempt the case summaries of honor and ethics hearings from disclosure to the law review student editors?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the exemption of 552(b)(2) as to an agency's internal personnel rules and practices was not applicable, since it did not apply to matters subject to a genuine and significant public interest, and since the general public had a significant interest in the Academy's administration of discipline in training future officers. As to the exemption of 552(b)(6) concerning "personnel" files and "similar files," the Court held that the Court of Appeals properly ordered production of the summaries in the District Court for in camera inspection to eliminate information that could result in identification of the cadets involved in the hearings--the exemption not barring disclosure merely because it could not be guaranteed that disclosure would not trigger recollection in any person whatever.