MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BRYANT, District Judge.
This action is brought under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. Plaintiff Exxon Corporation (hereinafter "Exxon") seeks the production of certain documents in the possession of defendant Federal Trade Commission (hereinafter "Commission"). Jurisdiction is conferred by 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3). This court has heard argument on and taken under advisement defendants' motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment and motions of the plaintiffs relating to discovery from defendant Tobin, Secretary of the Commission.
This is one of the first attempts by a government agency to follow the guidelines set forth in Vaughn and Cuneo.
On July 9, 1973, counsel for Exxon requested a copy of the Commission's staff report on the petroleum industry (hereinafter "Report"). Subsequently Exxon's counsel requested
and similar communications between the Commission and "any other government agency regarding shortages, allocations, imbalances, availabilities and noncompetitive activities involving petroleum." In essence, Exxon identified a single document and made a blanket request for all other petroleum-related Congressional correspondence and inter-agency documents.
The Commission, through Mr. Tobin, granted Exxon access to Congressional communications, deleting only references that might identify informants, but denied access to the Report and to communications with other agencies, citing exemptions 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) (exempted by statute), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) (inter-agency memoranda), and 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7) (investigatory files). On October 16, 1973, Exxon filed suit to compel disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Shortly after filing suit, Exxon moved for a pretrial order and then for partial summary judgment in an effort to obtain from the Commission a Vaughn index, itemizing and cross-referencing the exemptions claimed by the Commission. On December 17, 1973, defendant filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. As part of its motion it filed an index of documents withheld, listed under each claimed exemption. In addition, the Commission filed an affidavit of Mr. Tobin attesting to the completeness of the search for documents.
On December 21, 1973, Exxon noticed a deposition of Mr. Tobin. On motion of the Commission, the court quashed the deposition, ordering interrogatories to be used in place of the deposition. Exxon then filed a set of over 200 interrogatories directed to Mr. Tobin, which were answered in part and objected to in part. The court now has before it motions to reinstate the Tobin deposition and to impose sanctions for incomplete answers to interrogatories. The court also has before it defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, as well as plaintiff's opposition expressed largely as challenges to the adequacy of the index under the Vaughn guidelines and to the appropriateness of summary judgment in view of the limitations on its discovery. At the
RIPENESS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Exxon argues that this case is not ripe for summary judgment for two reasons. First, there are disputed issues of material fact that require further discovery. In this regard, Exxon has filed the above-mentioned discovery motions. Second, Exxon argues that the indices prepared by the Commission are inadequate under the Vaughn standard for a motion for summary judgment.
Exxon's first reason relates to its attempts at further discovery. Exxon seeks this discovery in order to rebut two affidavits of Mr. Tobin. In his first affidavit, filed as part of the Commission's motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment, Tobin states that he is Secretary of the Commission and legal custodian of the records. He continues by attesting that:
Tobin's second affidavit, filed with the Commission's supplementary indices, reaffirms the substance of the first affidavit, and adds that ". . . I am satisfied that all units in the Commission likely to have any of the documents requested have been directed to submit the relevant documents and I am satisfied that they have done so."
Exxon noticed Mr. Tobin's deposition. After this court directed that discovery from Mr. Tobin be made by interrogatory, Exxon sent Mr. Tobin over 200 interrogatories filling 46 pages. Tobin, assisted by counsel for the Commission, answered in part and objected in part.
Exxon argues that Mr. Tobin's affidavits and answers are, for purposes of a motion for summary judgment, deficient in three respects. First, they were prepared with the assistance of counsel. Second, they are incomplete, leaving open certain genuine issues of material fact. Third, they fail to comply with the requirements of Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that such affidavits and answers be made "on personal knowledge."
Exxon first claims that the interrogatories answered by Tobin cannot dispose of any material issues of fact because they were prepared with the assistance of counsel. Exxon objects that "Mr. Tobin did not personally and independently answer Plaintiff's interrogatories but was assisted by two attorneys from the Federal Trade Commission. . . . In view of the assistance obtained by Mr. Tobin in answering Plaintiff's interrogatories, the primary thrust of Plaintiff's discovery was defeated."
Question three, asking which decisions were made prior to examining the documents, is legally immaterial. What matters is whether the Commission's decisions not to disclose were justifiable, not when they were made. Question four, unresolved when the statement of issues was filed, has been rendered moot by submission to this court of all documents listed in the index and withheld from Exxon, and by this court's in camera inspection of those documents. (See below.)
The remaining three issues of material fact boil down to one — was the search by the Commission adequate and complete in light of Exxon's request? This issue deserves attention.
In his affidavits and interrogatories there is testimony from Mr. Tobin that he supervised a broad and extensive national search of Commission documents. While Mr. Tobin's own efforts were limited, other employees, both in Washington and in the field, spent extensive amounts of time continuing over many months. In his answer to interrogatory 42(t), Mr. Tobin states,
In the other interrogatories Mr. Tobin describes in general terms his role in supervising the search, but does not give details involving the identities of other participants.
Clearly then, there is uncontradicted evidence attesting to the completeness
Exxon's frustration in the face of its lack of knowledge is understandable, and is the result of the inherent weakness of the adversary process in Information Act cases first noted in Vaughn. The logic of Exxon's argument, however, carries too far. Exxon would require affidavits or testimony to be based on personal knowledge, and would demand that those affidavits cover each aspect and detail of the search. In the typical search for a few documents whose location is clearly defined such requirements cause no problem. But Exxon, by requesting all petroleum-related Congressional and inter-agency communications, has instigated a broad, national search with no inherent limit. To satisfy Exxon's requirement for personal knowledge of each detail of the search — and it is clear from its papers that Exxon demands nothing less — would require sworn testimony from at least one individual working in every office of the Commission, throughout the country. And it must be emphasized that this problem is not unique to the summary judgment stage — it would also hold true at a full-blown trial.
The Court faces an all-or-nothing choice. Either it must allow an affidavit from the supervisor of the search to be conclusive as to its adequacy, or it must let Exxon pursue its discovery down to the level of each individual participating in the search.
Faced with a choice between a decision based on incomplete knowledge and discovery that is unreasonably broad and burdensome, we must return to the language of the Act. The Act specifies that requests must be made only for "identifiable records."
Exxon's second contention is that this action is not ripe for summary judgment because the index of documents provided by the Commission does not analyze each document in detail specifying the subject matter area and precise form of the document and itemizing paragraph by paragraph which sections of each document fit under which exemption. In essence, Exxon seeks to stretch Vaughn far outside its original boundaries.
Vaughn did not lay down a per se rule to be applied to every Freedom of Information Act case. It rather suggested a technique to assist the court when needed. When there is "a factual dispute regarding whether the documents actually fit" the description by the government, and when the government claims multiple exemptions which may apply "to all or only a part of the information," in documents consisting of "hundreds or even thousands of pages," then the government must provide more than mere conclusory allegations with its in camera submission. Vaughn v. Rosen, 157 U.S.App.D.C. 340, 484 F.2d 820, 824-825. In other words, the index is designed primarily to enable the court to review effectively the agency's decision not to disclose. The extent to which it facilitates adversarial analysis by the party seeking disclosure is a mere by-product. Hence it is within the court's discretion to determine whether a particular in camera submission requires an index, and, if so, the degree of specificity required.
In this action, the court, after careful in camera inspection, finds the index submitted to be adequate for its needs. With respect to the single document identified by Exxon — the Report — the Commission claims that it fits in its entirety under the exemption for investigatory files, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). Since this exemption can include factual as well as non-factual material, the court agrees. Hence there is no further need for specificity in the index. The remaining items, identified only generally by Exxon but listed by the Commission, are grouped by description under each appropriate exemption. Most of these items are a few pages long, and many consist merely of a few lines of deleted identification material. The court finds the index to be sufficient to enable it to consider whether the documents are properly exempt from disclosure. Hence the court considers this case ripe for summary judgment.
Having decided that this action is ripe for summary judgment, we proceed to examine whether the Commission can properly withhold the documents sought by Exxon.
A. STAFF REPORT
The Commission claims that the Report is exempt from discovery by virtue of exemptions b(5) and b(7). We need only consider the exemption for "investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes except to the extent available by law to a party other than an agency". 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). It is undisputed that the Commission lawfully engages in investigations for law enforcement purposes. The record reflects that currently pending before the Commission is an antitrust complaint against eight leading petroleum firms, including Exxon, charging defendants with violating Section 5 of the Federal
In the instant situation, there is an ongoing investigation with an existing complaint. The Report, examined in camera, was clearly compiled as part of the Commission's investigatory file. Exxon does not dispute this. Instead, Exxon argued that the Commission has waived the exemption by releasing the Report to Congress (and thereby to the public), and that those parts of the report containing factual data do not fall under exemption b(7).
Exxon's waiver argument fails. The Freedom of Information Act itself states that "[t]his section is not authority to withhold information from Congress," 5 U.S.C. § 552(c), and the Federal Trade Commission Act imposes informational duties on the Commission. 15 U.S.C. § 46(f). Clearly Congress intended that it should receive information not available to the public.
Exxon's claim that factual information contained in the Report must be disclosed (and consequently must be identified by the Commission in a Vaughn index) must also be rejected. The fact-opinion dichotomy drawn by the Court of Appeals in Vaughn and other cases relates to the application of exemption b(5). When exemption b(7) applies, it exempts the entire file. Plaintiffs cite no case, and we have found none, where the fact-opinion dichotomy has been applied to material exempted by the b(7) exemption for investigatory files. Indeed, knowledge that particular factual material is contained in an investigatory file may reveal important tactical choices made by the investigating agency and thereby harm an investigation far more than would knowledge of the actual facts taken outside the context of the investigation.
Consequently we hold that the Report sought by Exxon fits within exemption
B. CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS
The second type of information withheld by the Commission is found in its Congressional correspondence. This correspondence in the main involves letters complaining of various practices by oil companies (including Exxon) that were sent to members of Congress and then forwarded to the Commission. Many of the actual documents are form letters forwarding these complaints and form responses acknowledging them. Most of the letters of complaint are from franchisees and independent station operators, persons who would become subject to retaliation if their identities were known. The Commission has disclosed the Congressional-Commission correspondence only after first deleting names and identifying details. It claims that its deletions are sanctioned by an "informant's privilage," allowed under exemptions b(3) (exempted by statute), b(4) (confidential commercial information), and b(7) (investigatory files.) Again, we need only consider b(7).
The identifying details in question clearly fit under exemption b(7). An important purpose behind the exemption is to allow law enforcement agencies to fulfill their responsibilities without divulging their modus operandi or the identities of their informants. This purpose would be jeopardized if Exxon were given the names of those who had complained of its behavior. The invasion of privacy and fear of possible reprisal would keep such information from the government in the future. As the Second Circuit has said,
Whether or not an actual investigation was undertaken for any complaint in particular, these complaints were written and forwarded to instigate investigations of violations of the law, and many of them relate to the pending action cited above. Consequently we hold that the identifying details in the forwarded letters were properly deleted under exemption 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7).
While we need not decide whether the material also falls under exemptions b(3) and b(4), the court notes that deletion of identifying detail is consistent with guidelines for exemption b(4) expressed in Bristol-Myers Company v. F. T.C., 138 U.S.App.D.C. 22, 424 F.2d 935 at 939 (1970) and Grumman Aircraft Engineer. Corp. v. Renegotiation Bd., 138 U.S.App.D.C. 147, 425 F.2d 578 at 581 (1970), with the statutory mandate to the Federal Trade Commission,
C. INTER-AGENCY COMMUNICATIONS
The Commission claims that its withheld inter-agency communications fit under exemptions b(3) (exempt by statute), b(4) (confidential commercial information), b(5) (inter-agency memoranda), and b(7) (investigatory files). The documents can be grouped into three sets.
The first set, described in sections 3C and 3D of the index,
The second set of documents, listed in 3B and 3E of the index, includes communications relating to either the investigation discussed above (In the Matter of Exxon Corporation, et al.) or to other investigations of the Commission. After in camera inspection, the court finds no reason to doubt the Commission's representation that these documents come from investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes. Accordingly, these documents are exempt from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7).
The remaining three documents, listed in 3A of the index, do not relate to an investigation undertaken for law enforcement purposes. They are claimed to be "inter-agency . . . memorandums . . . not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5). Under the interpretation of EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 93 S.Ct. 827, 35 L.Ed.2d 119 (1973), exemption b(5) applies to inter-governmental opinions, but does not allow non-disclosure of "purely factual material appearing in those documents in a form that is severable without compromising the private remainder of the documents." 410 U.S. 73 at 91, 93 S.Ct. 827 at 838. After inspecting the three documents in camera, the court finds that none of the three contain factual material that can be severed from the remaining portions of the document without jeopardizing disclosure of the opinions expressed in those documents. Consequently these three documents are exempt from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5).
Accordingly we do not reach the application of exemptions b(3) or b(4) to any of the inter-agency communications.
For reasons expressed in this memorandum, it is, this 13th day of August, 1974,
Ordered that plaintiff's motion for a pretrial order and motion for partial summary judgment, be, and hereby are, denied as moot, and it is further
Ordered that defendants' motion for summary judgment be, and hereby is, granted, and it is further
Ordered that plaintiff's motion to reinstate the deposition of Charles A. Tobin and motion to impose sanctions for failure to answer interrogatories be, and hereby are, denied.
Exxon's interrogatories extend in detail to other issues. For example, Exxon seeks a detailed description of the channels of communication in the Commission, an analysis of procedures used by the Commission to memorialize oral messages, an investigation of an alleged "leak" to the Washington Post, et cetera. None of these other questions is within the scope of the Tobin affidavit, and none is material to this action.
"To the extent required to prevent a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, an agency may delete identifying details when it makes available or publishes an opinion, statement of policy, interpretation, or staff manual or instruction."