Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Where there is a privacy interest protected by 5 U.S.C.S. § 552(b)(7)(C) and the public interest being asserted is to show that responsible officials acted negligently or otherwise improperly in the performance of their duties, the requester must establish more than a bare suspicion in order to obtain disclosure. Rather, the requester must produce evidence that would warrant a belief by a reasonable person that the alleged government impropriety might have occurred.
Skeptical about five Government investigations' conclusions that Vincent Foster, Jr., deputy counsel to President Clinton, committed suicide, respondent Favish filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for, among other things, 10 death-scene photographs of Foster's body. The Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) refused the request, invoking FOIA Exemption 7(C), which 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," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C) [5 USCS § 552(b) (7)(C)]. Favish sued to compel production. In upholding OIC's exemption claim, the District Court balanced the Foster family's privacy interest against any public interest in disclosure, holding that the former could be infringed by disclosure and that Favish had not shown how disclosure would advance his investigation, especially in light of the exhaustive investigation that had already occurred. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Favish need not show knowledge of agency misfeasance to support his request, and remanded the case for the interests to be balanced consistent with its opinion. On remand, the District Court ordered the release of five of the photographs. The Ninth Circuit affirmed as to the release of four.
Did the privacy protection of § 552(b)(7)(C) extend to the family's privacy interests?
The United States Supreme Court unanimously held, however, that the privacy protection of § 552(b)(7)(C) extended to the family's privacy interests, and the citizen provided no evidence of government impropriety to overcome those interests. The family members were entitled to seek protection of their own privacy interests to avoid exploitation of the victim and intrusions on the family's grief. Further, while the public interest in discovering deficiencies in the investigations was significant, the citizen presented no evidence of possible government misfeasance to warrant intruding upon the family's weighty privacy interests.