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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) confers jurisdiction on the district courts to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld. 5 U.S.C.S. § 552(a)(4)(B). Under this provision, federal jurisdiction is dependent on a showing that an agency has (1) improperly (2) withheld (3) agency records. Unless each of these criteria is met, a district court lacks jurisdiction to devise remedies to force an agency to comply with the FOIA's disclosure requirements.
Respondent publisher filed a suit seeking to compel petitioner United States Department of Justice to provide it with access to district court decisions received by the department's tax division. The district court granted the Department’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), which conferred jurisdiction in district courts when "agency records" have been "improperly withheld," had not been satisfied. The court reasoned that the decisions sought had not been "improperly withheld" because they were already available from their primary source, the district courts. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the decisions were "improperly withheld" and were "agency records" for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Did the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) require the United States Department of Justice to make available copies of district court decisions that it received in the course of litigating tax cases on behalf of the Federal Government?
The Court held that the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C.S. § 552, required the department to make available copies of district court decisions that it received in the course of litigating tax cases on behalf of the federal government. The Court found that the department withheld information under its control when it denied an otherwise valid request, and directed the requester to a place outside of the agency where the documents were publicly available. The Court concluded that the department improperly withheld agency records for purposes of 5 U.S.C.S. § 552(a)(4)(B).