BREAKING – Judge Snow DENIES FAA Motion for Summary Judgment – Rojas v. FAA 5

Judge G. Murray Snow has denied in part, and granted in part, the FAA’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Rojas v. FAA 5. The FAA attempted to close out that lawsuit arguing that it had performed all it needed to do for the FOIA requests at issue.

The denied parts of the FAAs motion include the 1) EEO case information, 2) requests for searching Shelton Snow’s email, 3)  Shelton Snow investigative file following the Fox expose. 

Judge Snow’s background to the case stated, “The National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (“NBCFAE”) lobbied for certain aspects of the new hiring policy. As part of this change, the FAA no longer formally preferred students participating in specified college programs under the Qualified Applicant Register. This policy change negatively impacted Mr. Rojas’s application to work as an Air Traffic Controller.”

Judge Snow found FAA did not adequately justify its exemption claims, for example –

Notwithstanding the potential public interest in a government agency’s review of unfair hiring practices, the government did not sufficiently show that it could not disclose any information without violating privacy interests. The government claims that privacy interests compel nondisclosure, but the government did not explain why it withheld all documents, and it did not show that redactions could adequately protect any privacy interests. Therefore, the government did not meet its burden that a FOIA exemption warranted nondisclosure.

The FAA failed to comply with FOIA concerning the second subsection. The government claims that it withheld all responsive documents because Mr. Snow has a cognizable privacy interest that warrants nondisclosure of cheating allegations. However, the public has an interest in knowing information about hiring officials who unfairly support specific job applicants, especially for positions that maintain public safety. Considering these two competing interests in light of the strong presumption in favor of disclosure, Yonemoto, 686 F.3d at 693, the government’s response to Mr. Rojas’s request failed to meet its burden for summary judgment.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the FAA cursorily stated that Exemption 6 protects the privacy interests of individuals in the email. The FAA’s perfunctory response is inadequate, and the FAA fails to meet its burden to show that an exemption applies.

The Judge set a status hearing for early January, which we will find out what FAA intends to do. There will likely be a discussion on what the next steps are.

2017 1204 O re MSJ (3)