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Federal Court Finds Air Force Engages in a
Pattern or Practice of Violating the FOIA

Archive Lawsuit Forces the Air Force to Process FOIA Requests

For more information contact:
David P. Dean, 202-496-0500
Meredith Fuchs, 202-994-7000

Related posting

FOIA Requests to Air Force Lost, Delayed and Ignored
Air Force Sued for a Pattern and Practice of Unresponsiveness to Freedom of Information Requests

Washington D.C., 19 April 2006 - A federal court today granted partial summary judgment to the National Security Archive finding that the Air Force has violated the Freedom of Information Act and has engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FOIA. In a suit brought by the Archive in March 2005, seeking to compel responses to 82 FOIA requests that had been pending between one and eighteen years, the court ordered the Air Force to provide the Archive with detailed information regarding each requested record and its FOIA processing, resolve each request with immediacy of attention and result, notify all agencies to which it has referred requests that it is operating under court order, and appear in court to discuss how to achieve results.

David P. Dean, of the law firm James & Hoffman, P.C., who represents the Archive, commented: "The Court made clear that the Air Force had better fix its broken system soon, and that the judge is watching closely." The size and complexity of a request does not excuse an agency's FOIA obligations. By specifically expressing concern over the Air Force's new compliance program, by ordering "immediacy of attention and result," and by commanding the appearance before the Court of an Air Force officer with sufficient rank "to achieve results," the Court sent a clear message: the time for the Air Force to comply with FOIA has finally arrived, and the Court is watching.

The Air Force's only defense to the Archive's claims had been that, since the time that the Complaint was filed, it has been trying to improve its processing. The Court commented, "Since the Air Force only woke up in May 2005 to its need to fulfill its FOIA obligations on a more timely basis, it has not had time to demonstrate the success or failure" of its new efforts and concluded "[i]t is too little, too late, to provide a defense against Count I of the Complaint." Among its findings, the court concluded that:

  • one Air Force component - the 11th Communications Squadron - "does not seem to understand the nature of its legal obligations under FOIA"; and
  • "[t]he record demonstrates that the Air Force has indeed failed miserably to handle Archive FOIA requests in a timely manner."

The Archive's General Counsel, Meredith Fuchs, noted "It is unfortunate we had to bring a lawsuit to enforce basic compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. We hope this will make the FOIA work better for all members of the public and look forward to working with the Air Force to help improve its system."

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