437 F.3d 94 (D.C. Cir. 2006), 04-5235, Hall v. C.I.A.

Docket Nº:04-5235.
Citation:437 F.3d 94
Party Name:Roger HALL Appellant v. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, Appellee.
Case Date:February 14, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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437 F.3d 94 (D.C. Cir. 2006)

Roger HALL Appellant



No. 04-5235.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

February 14, 2006

Argued Nov. 8, 2005.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 98cv01319).

James H. Lesar argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Carol Hrdlicka, pro se, filed the brief as amicus curiae in support of appellant.

Megan L. Rose, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. Attorney, and Michael J. Ryan, Assistant U.S. Attorney. R. Craig Lawrence and Diane M. Sullivan, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, entered appearances.

Before: Henderson and Griffith, Circuit Judges, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.


STEPHEN F. WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Roger Hall, the plaintiff-appellant in this case, has made three sets of requests to the Central Intelligence Agency under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), seeking information about prisoners of war and individuals missing in action in the Vietnam War. The procedural ins and outs

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of the resulting litigation have been disconcertingly complex but for the most part need not be recited. The key issues between the parties relate to whether Hall was eligible for complete or partial waiver of fees for document search, review, and duplication. But the CIA's decision to deliver "the documents at issue in this case" to Hall without seeking payment moots these issues, as we will explain.

Although there appear to be lingering disputes over the scope of the CIA's search and the validity of its exemption claims, the merits of those issues are not before us because of a procedural twist: Hall failed to file a timely appeal from the district court's final order dismissing the case. As a result the only reviewable order is the court's denial of Hall's motion for reconsideration. With respect to each of Hall's claims we find either that they were mooted by the CIA's release of documents or that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying them.

* * * * * *

In 1994 and 1998 Hall filed FOIA requests seeking information held by the CIA. Having received what he considered an inadequate response to the first request and no response to the later request within twenty business days as required by FOIA, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i), he filed suit in district court. The CIA thereupon released some documents to Hall but withheld others in whole or in part.

The CIA moved for summary judgment, arguing that its searches were adequate and that it had properly invoked various FOIA exemptions to justify the withholding and redacting of some documents. The court ruled that the CIA's affidavits were insufficient for evaluation of the searches' adequacy and ordered submission of additional affidavits; as to the FOIA exemptions, it ruled largely but not entirely for the agency. Mem. Op. (Aug. 10, 2000).

A battle then ensued on the issue of fees. FOIA allows agencies to charge different fees for different kinds of requests. When records are sought for commercial use, an agency may charge fees for document search, duplication, and review. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(I). When a representative of the news media (inter alia) seeks records, the agency may collect only duplication fees. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II). When disclosure "is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester," the agency must reduce fees further or eliminate them altogether. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). Hall argued initially that he was entitled to a public-interest waiver. The district court rejected the argument; it then ordered the parties to "file a joint report indicating whether or not plaintiff has committed to paying search and copying fees up to a specific amount. If he has not, the case will be dismissed." Mem. Op. (July 22, 2002) 7. The parties then continued to maneuver with respect to fees; each here seeks to cast blame on the other, but we need not recount those maneuvers here nor pick...

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