Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge J. SKELLY WRIGHT.
Opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part filed by Circuit Judge HARRY T. EDWARDS.
J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:
In this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case appellant — a federal prisoner — sought relief in the District Court for the refusal of the United States Parole Commission to release three documents to him: his presentence report, a few lines excised from a letter written by a probation officer to the Commission, and a psychological report written about him. The District Court granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment and dismissed appellant's suit. In this opinion we reverse the District Court with respect to the presentence report and the psychological report, and affirm the District Court's holding that the Commission did not have to release the material excised from the letter.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On October 5, 1981 appellant made a FOIA request to the Parole Commission for a number of documents about himself in the possession of the Commission. After some delays — allegedly due to the large number of pending requests — the Commission released some of the documents to appellant on December 18, 1981, and then released additional documents on April 21, 1982. The Commission withheld all or part of three documents:
(1) A presentence report originally prepared in 1977 by a probation officer for the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (hereinafter referred to as the "Virginia District Court"). The Commission withheld the entire report on the ground that it was a court document rather than an agency record, and that it therefore was not subject to FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3) & (4)(B) (1982) (providing that agencies make "agency records" available to the public and granting District Courts authority to order production of "agency records improperly withheld").
(2) Portions of a letter (the "Benoit letter") from Probation Officer Thyra Benoit to a Parole Commission employee, dated March 3, 1981. The Commission alleges that disclosure of the excised portions of the letter would reveal the identity of a confidential source, and those portions are therefore privileged under Exemptions 7(C) and (D) of FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C) & (D) (1982).
(3) A "psychological test screening report" (hereinafter referred to as the "psychological report"), dated December 29, 1977, and prepared by the Bureau of Prisons staff. This report was withheld in its entirety under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 7(C), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) & (7)(C) (1982),
Meanwhile, as the Commission was processing appellant's request, appellant filed a FOIA complaint in the District Court for the District of Columbia (hereinafter referred to as "D.C. District Court") on January 11, 1982. On February 22, 1982 he moved for summary judgment, and the government filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on May 17, 1982. The government accompanied its motion with affidavits of Linda Marble, Chief Case Analyst for the National Appeals Board of the Parole Commission (hereinafter the "public Marble affidavit"), and Billy Torrans, Chief Probation Officer for the Virginia District Court (hereinafter the "Torrans affidavit"). The D.C. District Court held a hearing on September 23 (in appellant's absence because appellant was incarcerated and litigating his FOIA case pro se), at which the court requested a supplemental affidavit concerning the Benoit letter and the psychological report. On October 8 the government submitted a second affidavit of Linda Marble (hereinafter the "in camera Marble affidavit"), along with complete copies of the Benoit letter and the psychological report.
On October 27, 1982 the D.C. District Court entered a memorandum opinion and order granting the government's motion for summary judgment. The court held that the presentence report was an agency record and thus subject to FOIA. However, the court held that, because the Virginia District Court "considers presentence reports confidential court documents which it loans to the Parole Commission only to enable the Commission to carry out its statutory function," Memorandum Opinion in D.D.C.Civil Action No. 82-241 (October 25, 1982) (Dist.Ct.Op.) at 4, Joint Appendix (JA) 79, the Parole Commission had not "improperly" withheld it within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (1982) (granting District Courts authority to order release of "agency records improperly withheld"). The court also held that, based in part on the information in the in camera Marble affidavit, the Benoit letter portions were exempt from FOIA for the reasons urged by the government. Finally, the court held that, based again in part on the in camera Marble affidavit, the psychological report also came within the FOIA exemptions urged by the government. Appellant here challenges all of these holdings.
II. THE PRESENTENCE REPORT
In Carson v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 631 F.2d 1008 (D.C.Cir.1980), this court held that a presentence report is an agency record for purposes of FOIA. In this case the Parole Commission ignores the rationale underlying our Carson decision and once again advances the argument we rejected in Carson; appellees' argument reduces to the assertion that, because presentence reports originate in the courts (which are not "agencies" under FOIA), the originating court may under current law continue to control the report after it has been turned over to the Parole Commission. Under the principles developed in Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339 (D.C.Cir.1978), vacated in part on other grounds, 607 F.2d 367 (D.C.Cir.1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 927, 100 S.Ct. 1312, 63 L.Ed.2d 759 (1980), such control would be sufficient to make the report a "court record," rather than an "agency record," and thus outside the scope of FOIA. Furthermore, appellees and the D.C. District Court seem to believe that the Virginia District Court's assertions of control over the presentence report, if not sufficient to deny the report the status of agency record, should nonetheless be sufficient to make the Parole Commission's withholding of the report not "improper." The result of this line of reasoning would be the same as the result we rejected in Carson: the presentence report would be beyond the scope of FOIA.
A. Agency Records
In Goland v. CIA, supra, this court grappled with the problem of what constitutes an "agency record" for purposes of FOIA. In Goland the CIA had refused to release records concerning the legislative history of the CIA's organic statutes. This court affirmed the refusal on the ground that the document sought (a transcript of a secret House of Representatives hearing) was a congressional document rather than an agency record. The Goland court stated that the appropriate test to determine whether a public document was an agency record was "whether under all the facts of the case the document has passed from the control of Congress and become property subject to the free disposition of the agency with which the document resides." 607 F.2d at 347.
Carson applied the Goland test to presentence reports. The 10th Circuit, in Cook v. Willingham, 400 F.2d 885 (10th Cir.1968) (per curiam), had held with little discussion that presentence reports are not agency records, on the ground that such reports were prepared by courts, which are not "agencies" for purposes of FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 551(1)(B) (1982). The Carson court neither approved nor disapproved the Cook result, but held that the law concerning the use of presentence reports had changed substantially in two ways since the time of Cook. First, Rule 32(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure required sentencing courts to disclose much of the contents of presentence reports to requesting defendants before imposing sentence. This provision had been added in 1975, and had "substantially dilute[d] the sentencing court's control over the presentence report." Carson, supra, 631 F.2d at 1012. Second — and more importantly — Congress had recently given the Parole Commission important responsibilities with respect to presentence reports. The Parole Commission and Reorganization Act, Pub.L. 94-233, 90 STAT. 219, had required the Parole Commission to use presentence reports in making parole determinations, see 18 U.S.C. § 4207 (1982), and had required courts to transmit the reports to the Parole Commission for these purposes, see id. § 4205(e). The statute had also required the Parole Commission to grant requesting prisoners "reasonable access" to presentence reports in most cases. See id. § 4208(b). Because the presentence reports thus had come to serve an important function in the Commission's decisionmaking process, the Carson court concluded that the Commission exercised considerable control over the reports. Therefore, under Goland, the reports were as a matter of law to be considered agency records.
It is important to emphasize the scope of the Carson holding. Nowhere in Carson is there so much as a hint that the history of
Appellees here argue that an originating entity may so restrict use of a presentence report it sends to an agency covered by FOIA that the document remains under the control of the originating agency and never becomes an agency record. In this case the Torrans affidavit claims that it is the Virginia District Court's "policy" that "[a]ll Presentences are deemed to be loaned to the Parole Commission and Bureau of Prisons to enable them to carry out their official functions, and should be returned to the [Virginia District] Court after such use, or upon request. Disclosure of Presentence Reports has been authorized only so far as to comply with 18 U.S.C. [§] 4208(b)(2)." JA 61. According to appellees, the Virginia District Court's assertion of this policy enabled it to retain control over the presentence report when it transferred the report to the Parole Commission.
In the face of Carson, we find appellees' argument to be without merit. Given the functions that presentence reports serve in accord with actual usage and congressional enactment, the Virginia District Court's assertions of control were irrelevant for purposes of determining whether the presentence report was an agency record. As we held in Carson, the fact is that the Virginia District Court — whatever its policy may be — does not and cannot control presentence reports after it has turned them over to the Parole Commission.
B. Improperly Withheld
The D.C. District Court relied on GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union, 445 U.S. 375, 100 S.Ct. 1194, 63 L.Ed.2d 467 (1980), to hold that, although the presentence report was an agency record, it had not been "improperly" withheld. See Dist.Ct.Op. at 4, JA 79. In GTE Sylvania a Delaware District Court had issued an injunction forbidding the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) from releasing certain documents to the public. After the injunction was issued, Consumers Union filed a suit in D.C. District Court seeking release of the documents under FOIA. CPSC's defense in that suit was that it had not improperly withheld the documents, because its withholding was merely in obedience to the Delaware court order. The Supreme Court agreed with CPSC that the agency's withholding of the documents was not improper; since such "impropriety" is a prerequisite for a court to order release of documents under FOIA, see Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150, 100 S.Ct. 960, 968, 63 L.Ed.2d 267 (1980), the Supreme Court held that the D.C. District Court could not grant such relief.
According to the D.C. District Court, the Virginia District Court's "policy" forbidding the Parole Commission to release presentence reports is analogous to the injunction that was issued by the Delaware District Court in GTE Sylvania. However, the reasoning of GTE Sylvania in fact undermines the D.C. District Court's holding. As the Supreme Court noted, GTE Sylvania was an application of the "established doctrine that persons subject to an injunctive order issued by a court with jurisdiction are expected to obey that decree until it is modified or reversed, even if they have proper grounds to object to the order." 445 U.S. at 386, 100 S.Ct. at 1201. The rationale of that decision, as elucidated in such well-known cases as United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947), and Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307, 314-321, 87 S.Ct. 1824, 1828-1832, 18 L.Ed.2d 1210 (1967), is that those who object to a court order are expected to
In this case, however, there were no formal judicial proceedings, no opportunity for Mr. Lykins to object to the court's "policy," no chance for intervention, and no concrete case or controversy before the Virginia District Court.
The consequence of accepting the D.C. District Court's understanding of GTE Sylvania would be once again to let in through the back door the arguments we rejected in Carson. The Virginia District Court's "policy" is relevant, if at all, only to the question whether it has retained control of the presentence report and thus prevented it from becoming an agency record subject to FOIA. As we discussed above, in Carson we answered that question by holding that a District Court cannot so retain control. The inquiry into whether a document is "improperly" withheld is a very different inquiry, directed not at the desires of the originating agency (whether it be a court, Congress, or other governmental body not covered by FOIA), but at the question whether a court of competent jurisdiction over the subject matter and over the parties has issued a valid injunction.
III. THE BENOIT LETTER AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT
The trial court held that the excised portion of the Benoit letter was properly withheld under Exemptions 7(C) and 7(D) of FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C) & (D) (1982), and that the psychological report was properly withheld under Exemptions 5 and 7(C), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) & (7)(C) (1982). The District Court found these exemptions applicable in part on the basis of information contained in the in camera Marble affidavit. See Dist.Ct.Op. at 2-3, JA 77-78. Appellant does not seem to challenge the Commission's right to withhold information to protect the identities of confidential sources in general under Exemptions 7(C) and 7(D). Appellant argues instead that the court committed error (1) in relying upon in camera affidavits, (2) in failing to require more detailed and particularized public information from the agency about the contents of the materials withheld and the possible segregability of privileged parts from nonprivileged parts, and (3) in failing to explicate more specifically the findings necessary to demonstrate that the claimed exemptions are applicable. The Benoit letter and the psychological report merit somewhat different analyses, and in what follows we affirm the District Court's holding with respect to the Benoit letter and reverse with respect to the psychological report.
A. The Benoit Letter
The public Marble affidavit stated that "[f]ive sentences and a reference to a source were excised from a letter from U.S. Probation Officer Thyra R.J. Benoit to Michael J. Santella, Case Analyst of the Northeast Region, dated March 3, 1981. The purpose was to protect a confidential source of information which would become known through disclosure of the person's identity or the information supplied." JA 48. The remainder of the letter was released. For the reasons that follow, we hold that this information — coupled with the District Court's in camera inspection of the deleted portions of the letter — was sufficient to justify the excisions.
The seminal case of Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C.Cir.1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977, 94 S.Ct. 1564, 39 L.Ed.2d 873 (1974), established that the government must supply to a FOIA requester any reasonably segregable, nonexempt portions of documents that are in part exempt from FOIA's disclosure requirements. Id. at 825-827; see also Yeager v. DEA, 678 F.2d 315, 322 & n. 16 (D.C.Cir.1982) (discussing meaning of term "reasonably segregable"); 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (1982) ("Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be provided to any person requesting such record
This detailed procedure serves at least three purposes: it forces the government to analyze carefully any material withheld, it enables the trial court to fulfill its duty of ruling on the applicability of the exemption, and it enables the adversary system to operate by giving the requester as much information as possible, on the basis of which he can present his case to the trial court. Because this last purpose can only be served if the detailed indexes and justifications are available to the requester, we have required that as much information as possible be made public. However, in cases in which a look at the withheld material itself would be useful, we have fully approved in camera examination of the withheld material by the trial court. See Phillippi v. CIA, 546 F.2d 1009, 1012-1013 (D.C.Cir.1976) ("It is clear that the FOIA contemplates that the courts will resolve fundamental issues in contested cases on the basis of in camera examinations of the relevant documents."); Allen v. CIA, 636 F.2d 1287, 1294-1300 (D.C.Cir.1980) (discussing the utility of in camera review of withheld material). Of course, such in camera examination is not a substitute for the government's obligation to provide detailed public indexes and justifications whenever possible. Rather, it will in most cases assist the District Court as a supplement to the detailed public record and adversary testing of the government's justifications for withholding information.
These principles are sufficient to dispose of the Benoit letter. The Parole Commission released virtually the entire contents of appellant's file (including over 138 documents). In addition, the Commission segregated the exempt portions of the Benoit letter (approximately five sentences) from the nonexempt portions of the letter (approximately 12 sentences). Although the Commission did not formally prepare a Vaughn index to the letter, the public Marble affidavit in fact provided all of the information that such an index would have disclosed: the amount of material excised, the exemptions claimed for the material, and the justification supporting the application of the exemptions to the material. The District Court properly examined in camera the entire Benoit letter, which was affixed to the in camera Marble affidavit. The District Court concluded that release of the five additional sentences would have compromised a legitimately confidential source, and therefore ruled that Exemptions 7(C) and 7(D) applied. We hold that the District Court followed a reasonable procedure with respect to the Benoit letter, and we have no reason to believe that it reached an incorrect result.
Appellant seems to object to the somewhat conclusory nature of the justification offered in the public Marble affidavit, and would therefore have us remand this issue to the District Court with instructions that the government should be required to make public further information about the deleted portions of the Benoit letter. To be sure, one of the square holdings of Vaughn was that the government may not justify withholding information in FOIA cases on the basis of sweeping or conclusory statements concerning the applicability of FOIA exemptions. But we do not believe that appellant can demonstrate on the facts of this case that the government's justification was improper under Vaughn.
This court has recognized that there are occasions when extensive public justification would threaten to reveal the very information for which a FOIA exemption is claimed. See, e.g., Hayden v. NSA, 608 F.2d 1381, 1384-1385 (D.C.Cir.1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 937, 100 S.Ct. 2156, 64 L.Ed.2d 790 (1980). Particularly in cases in
Our holding in this case should not be construed to grant approval to agencies and trial courts to ignore Vaughn's standards and to justify nondisclosure by means of general and conclusory statements; we remain fully committed to the procedures specified in Vaughn. However, when an agency has disclosed a great deal of a document and withholds only a few lines that would reveal the identity of a confidential source, and when the trial court's in camera review confirms that such a confidential source would be revealed, the kind of justification proffered in the public Marble affidavit does not violate Vaughn's strictures against overly sweeping and conclusory invocation of FOIA exemptions. Cf. Lesar v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 636 F.2d 472, 492 (D.C.Cir.1980). In short, we do not here make an exception to Vaughn's requirements; rather, we hold that those requirements were met in this case.
B. The Psychological Report
The psychological report raises more serious problems. The entire document was withheld from appellant, who thus has had little opportunity to discover even the kinds of material contained in the document. Moreover, the public Marble affidavit states only that "[a] psychological test screening report dated December 29, 1977, prepared by Bureau of Prison's [sic] Staff, was denied as it contains diagnostic material and conclusions of a psychological or psychiatric nature which, if known to Mr. Lykins, would be potentially disruptive to his response to institutional programs." The affidavit does not discuss the question of what parts of the report might be segregable and therefore subject to disclosure, nor does it relate particular parts of the report to particular FOIA exemptions, nor does it reveal any significant information about the length of the report or the circumstances surrounding its production.
The above standards concerning the use of in camera affidavits arise from the judicial system's interest in an effective adversary system. In Vaughn we emphasized the crucial importance of providing as much information as possible to FOIA plaintiffs, so that the adversary system can function effectively in assisting the trial court to make a determination and producing a record that is susceptible to appellate review. See Vaughn, supra, 484 F.2d at 823-826; accord Yeager, supra, 678 F.2d at 324; Phillippi, supra, 546 F.2d at 1013. Even in cases in which we have permitted in camera affidavits, we have noted that they are only permissible if "the interests of the adversary process are outweighed" by other crucial interests. Hayden, supra, 608 F.2d at 1385.
In this case the District Court's failure to hold the government to the accepted standards for submission of in camera affidavits made it impossible for the adversary system to function effectively in the District Court. The record does not show any effort by the court or the government to supply appellant with a Vaughn index; appellant was given no information concerning which exemptions were claimed for the report, the circumstances surrounding the report's creation, the length of the report, the possibility of segregating exempt portions from nonexempt portions, or the identity of the author of the report. Cf. Pollard v. FBI, 705 F.2d 1151, 1155 (9th Cir.1983) (in camera affidavit accepted in case in which public affidavit had provided "detailed description of the withheld document"). In short, appellant had no opportunity
Because we here reverse the District Court's holding that the presentence report was not an agency record, we remand this case to the District Court. In filings with the District Court the government does not seem to have asserted that any particular FOIA exemptions would apply to all or part of the presentence report. The District Court should therefore consider carefully whether any new government claims of exemption are permissible under Ryan v. Dep't of Justice, 617 F.2d 781, 791-792 (D.C. Cir.1980), Jordan v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, supra, 591 F.2d at 779-781, and Carson v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, supra, 631 F.2d at 1015 n. 29. We also reverse the District Court's holding that the psychological report was exempt under FOIA. Our decision is based entirely on the District Court's failure to require an adequate public record with respect to this report, and we express no opinion as to whether some portions of the report may be exempt. However, on remand the District Court should require the agency to comply with the ordinary standards in FOIA cases, including release of any reasonably segregable portions of the report and preparation of an index relating any withheld portions to specific FOIA exemptions. Finally, we affirm the District Court's holding that the excised portions of the Benoit letter were exempt from release.
Affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part.
HARRY T. EDWARDS, Circuit Judge, dissenting in part and concurring in part:
I dissent with respect to the majority's treatment of the psychological report. In analyzing this case under the Freedom of Information Act, I find absolutely no material distinction between the psychological report and the Benoit letter. The majority cites no significant differences between these two documents and, yet, affirms as to one but not the other. I would affirm as to both documents.
The record in this matter clearly indicates that Lykins did not receive a list of claimed Freedom of Information Act exemptions as to either the psychological report or the Benoit letter. It is equally plain, however, that the contents of the public Marble affidavit adequately informed Lykins of the nature of the claimed FOIA exemptions, thus enabling him to litigate any issues raised by either document. Therefore, to the extent that the public affidavit was deficient at all, it was equally deficient as to both documents. Nonetheless, because Lykins had adequate notice of the Government's proposed exemptions for both documents, and because, in any event, I can find no basis whatsoever for disclosure of the psychological report, I dissent from the decision to remand. The Government's failure in this case to adhere to the strict technical requirements of a Vaughn Index was at worst harmless error. In my view, to remand under these circumstances is merely to engage in empty formality and to require an already overburdened District Court to do the same.
United Mine Workers lends no support to the claim that the "order" here was a valid injunction deserving of the unyielding obedience that the Supreme Court required in that case. For the principle of United Mine Workers is not that any pronouncement of a court — regardless whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction or whether there is an Article III case or controversy — must be absolutely followed upon penalty of a contempt citation. Rather, the case stands for the more modest proposition that a court has inherent jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction in a case, and that an order it issues while it makes this determination is binding. See 330 U.S. at 290, 292-293, 67 S.Ct. at 694, 695. There is no indication that the Virginia District Court's order had anything to do with any concrete case or controversy before it, and United Mine Workers therefore cloaks it with no additional dignity. Of course, as we state in text, we are not here questioning the ability of the Virginia District Court to issue housekeeping "orders" of this type to organize its own business. Rather, we are holding that an "order" of this type does not have the legal effect of the injunctions in GTE Sylvania or United Mine Workers.
We note that the result we reach here is supported by significant policy considerations. If the Virginia District Court's "order" were treated as a full-scale injunction, then Mr. Lykins may be denied his statutory right of action, for it is very unclear how a plaintiff like Lykins could challenge that order as unjustified; although a petition for intervention comes to mind, there is no ongoing proceeding in which he could intervene. Moreover, even if there were a mechanism by which a FOIA plaintiff like Lykins could appear before the court to challenge the "order," the effect would be to permit the Virginia District Court to force FOIA plaintiffs seeking presentence reports originating in that district to bring their FOIA complaints there. But Congress explicitly laid venue in FOIA cases in "the district in which the complainant resides, or has his principal place of business, or in which the agency records are situated, or in the District of Columbia." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (1982). Thus the plaintiff would be denied his right to venue in accord with the express statutory intention. At any rate, there is no reason why the Virginia District Court — which has its own interests in the report at stake — should be a preferred forum to hear this case.