FIA-20-0016 - In the Matter of Friends of the Earth

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On January 21, 2020, the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) granted in part and denied in all other respects the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Appeal filed by Friends of the Earth (Appellant) from a final determination issued by the Department of Energy's office of Public Information (OPI). On Appeal, the Appellant alleged that the agency had misapplied Exemption 4, that the agency's reliance on Exemption 5 was overly broad, that the agency failed to disclose reasonably segregable information, and that the agency failed to conduct an adequate search for responsive documents. OHA determined that the OPI properly withheld information pursuant to Exemption 5, but that some of the withheld information was not consistent with the parameters established by Exemption 4. Namely, OHA found that some withheld information may not have been from "a person" as contemplated by Exemption 4. Further, the commercial or financial characteristics of some of the withheld information was not readily apparent. OHA further determined that the determination letter was not adequate in terms of addressing Exemption 4, in that the determination letter's language was not consistent   with the definition of "confidential" as provided in the Supreme Court case Argus Leader, 139 S.Ct. 2356. Further, OHA found that there were deficiencies with the adequacy of search and the segregation of information. OHA Case No. FIA-20- 0016.