BUTZNER, Circuit Judge:
Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc., appeals from the dismissal of its third party claim against I.T.O. Corporation, a stevedoring company, in which it sought indemnity for damages paid Joseph L. Wodzenski, a longshoreman injured on one of Moore-McCormack's ships. Moore-McCormack assigns numerous errors which, with one exception, we find to be without merit. The single assignment of error warranting discussion is the district court's ruling that the Freedom of Information Act did not require disclosure of a critical paragraph in the Department of Labor's accident report and the court's consequent limitation of the examination of the Department's compliance officer. We conclude that the Department was not entitled to withhold the contested paragraph and that the Rules of Civil Procedure did not bar admission of the evidence. Accordingly, we vacate and remand the case for reconsideration in light of the entire record as supplemented by the excluded evidence.
While Moore-McCormack's vessel was being unloaded, the port vang purchase wire snapped and the lower vang pendant and block fell, striking the longshoreman. The stevedore contends that the vang broke because it was corroded and unable to withstand the stress of unloading. The shipowner claims that improper operation of the winch by one of the stevedore's employees caused the break. The shipowner settled the long-shoreman's claim and then submitted its third party complaint for indemnity against the stevedore to the court without a jury.
In an effort to prove that the winch operator was at fault, Moore-McCormack
The district court examined the report in camera
The court ruled, however, that the intraagency exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5), authorized the Department to withhold the report's next paragraph which the Department had deleted from the copies furnished counsel:
Ruling consistently, the district judge limited the examination of the compliance officer to his findings and facts. The court also sustained objections to Moore-McCormack's questioning the compliance officer about the following comment, although the Department had previously released this part of the report: "The operation was and is done in a safe, reasonable manner; but a possible sudden load surge must be guarded against. Retrain winch operator."
At the conclusion of the shipowner's case, the district court granted the stevedore's motion to dismiss under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Relying in part on the Department's official opinion exonerating the stevedore and noting the absence of evidence that the winch operator had put any undue stress on the gear, the court ruled that the shipowner had failed to prove that the vang broke because the stevedore had breached its warranty of workman-like service. Specifically, the district court found that the wire was defective at the time of the accident, rendering the vessel unseaworthy. It held that the injured longshoreman was not contributorily negligent and that the stevedore had properly rigged and operated the vessel's gear. The district court's ruling is amply supported by the record, and
With exceptions not pertinent to this case, the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a), requires government agencies to make their records available to any person, unless the Act specifically exempts disclosure. The exemption on which the district court relied, § 552(b)(5), provides:
In Environmental Protection Agency v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 93 S.Ct. 827, 35 L.Ed.2d 119 (1973), the leading case construing exemption (5), the Supreme Court distilled a commonsense, flexible rule from the legislative history and judicial opinions dealing with the privilege of executive agencies to withhold information from their adversaries. The Court held that the exemption authorized an agency to withhold "materials reflecting deliberative or policy-making processes" but required disclosure of "purely factual, investigative matters." 410 U.S. at 89, 93 S.Ct. at 837.
In the excluded paragraph of the report, the compliance officer neither expressed an opinion nor made a recommendation to his superiors concerning I.T.O.'s violation of any regulation or statute.
Both the facts revealed by an accident investigation and the inferences drawn from the facts may influence the agency's decisions, but this does not insulate either from disclosure. In Machin v. Zuckert, 114 U.S.App.D.C. 335, 316 F.2d 336, cert. denied, 375 U.S. 896, 84 S.Ct. 172, 11 L.Ed.2d 124 (1963), appeal after remand, 118 U.S.App.D.C. 410, 336 F.2d 914 (1964), at the instance of a party who was suing the manufacturer of a military aircraft, the Court of Appeals directed the district court to examine in camera the investigatory report of Air Force mechanics. It ordered disclosure not only of strictly factual findings but also, over the objection of the Secretary of the Air Force, of "opinions" or "conclusions" the mechanics expressed concerning possible defects in the propellers that might have been due to the negligence of the manufacturer. Machin provides sound precedent although it predates the Freedom of Information Act. The Act was designed to expand, not contract, the information formerly made available to the public.
The Department also contends that 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7) prohibits disclosure of the investigator's conclusions. That exemption specifies:
The legislative history indicates that this exemption is meant to apply to all law enforcement proceedings, not just to violations of the criminal statutes. Wellman Industries, Inc. v. NLRB, 490 F.2d 427 (4th Cir. 1974); H.R.Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 U.S.Code Cong. and Ad.News, 2418, 2428 (1966). However, the bare assertion that the files are for law enforcement purposes is not sufficient to preclude disclosure when no enforcement proceedings are contemplated. Bristol-Myers v. FTC, 138 U.S.App. D.C. 22, 424 F.2d 935, 939 (1970). Instead, exemption must be tested by the Congressional purpose underlying § 552(b)(7) which has been aptly summarized as follows:
Disclosure here will offend neither aspect of the legislative purpose. Because no enforcement proceeding is pending or contemplated, disclosure will not prejudice the government. Nor is there any question of endangering government sources or investigative techniques. The excluded paragraph of the report adds nothing on these subjects to the information the Department released. The compliance officer's observations of facts and the inferences he drew were the origin of both parts of the report. His investigative technique was clearly revealed in the portion of the report the Department furnished the parties. This included information about how the officer learned of the accident, the time and place of the investigation, the names and titles of the people from whom he obtained information, numerous photographs of the ship's rigging and the broken cable, the officer's comment that he had found no violations, and his recommendation that the winch operator should be retrained. The excluded paragraph disclosed nothing additional about the sources of the Department's information or its confidential procedures. We conclude, therefore, that no sound reason exists for applying the investigatory file exemption.
Finally, the Department suggests it can withhold the contested paragraph by virtue of traditional privilege under Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Act requires that all records, except those which by its terms need not be disclosed, should be made available to the public. The Act, however, does not forbid disclosure of any records, so government officials may make public that which it exempts. Disclosure of exempt data is governed by a variety of statutes, rules, and regulations. See generally Davis, The Information Act: A Preliminary Analysis, 34 U.Chi.L.Rev. 761, 766 (1967). Since the Act does not exempt the contested paragraph, we have no occasion in this opinion to consider the effect of Rule 26(b) on the extent of discovery when a record which is exempt under the Act might be produced under some other statute or regulation. It is sufficient for us to hold that Rule 26(b) does not authorize an agency to withhold any records which the Act commands it to disclose.
The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Since the case was tried without a jury, there is no need for a full re-trial of the issues. The district court should reconsider its decision in light of the paragraph of the report that was previously excluded and, if needed, the further testimony of the compliance officer.
FIELD, Circuit Judge (concurring and dissenting):
While I agree with the views expressed in parts III and IV of Judge Butzner's opinion, I think the district judge was correct in ruling that the portion of the compliance officer's report entitled "Conclusions" fell within the intra-agency exemption of the Freedom of Information Act.
To some degree my disagreement with the majority stems from my reading of the report. The purpose of the investigation by the compliance officer was to determine whether Wodzenski's injury had resulted from the violation of any of the regulations which had been promulgated by the Department of Labor to protect the health and safety of longshoremen. The officer's report was prepared for the use of the Department and contained the six factual observations upon which it reached the conclusion that the operation had been carried out in a safe and reasonable manner. Upon request the Department disclosed all of the officer's factual findings and in addition thereto the shipowner received the full investigatory report. This latter report included the following:
It would reasonably appear that the compliance officer, having failed to find any regulatory violation, was pointing out to his superiors a possible explanation for the accident with a recommendation
I am also concerned that implicit in the majority decision is the suggestion that the Freedom of Information Act not only entitles one in the position of the shipowner to opinions appearing in the investigatory file, but requires the official investigator to appear as an expert witness in a private civil action. Such a requirement would effect an unwarranted and disruptive intrusion upon the official duties and responsibilities of these investigators and involve them in private controversies unrelated to official business.