464 F.2d 742 (D.C. Cir. 1971), 71-1708, Mink v. E.P.A.

Docket Nº:71-1708.
Citation:464 F.2d 742
Party Name:Patsy T. MINK et al., Appellants, v. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, et al.
Case Date:October 15, 1971
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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464 F.2d 742 (D.C. Cir. 1971)

Patsy T. MINK et al., Appellants,


ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, et al.

No. 71-1708.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

October 15, 1971

Argued Sept. 16, 1971.

As Amended Nov. 2, 1971.

Certiorari Granted March 6, 1972.

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Mr. Ramsey Clark, Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Kenneth C. Bass, III, was on the motion, for appellants.

Mr. Jeffrey Axelrad, Atty., Department of Justice, with whom Messrs. Morton, Hollander and Harland F. Leathers, Attys., Department of Justice, were on the opposition to the motion, for appellees.

Before FAHY, Senior Circuit Judge, and LEVENTHAL and WILKEY, [*] Circuit Judges.


This is a suit brought by 33 members of Congress, in both their official and private capacities, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (1970), to obtain several documents pertaining to an underground nuclear test explosion which had been scheduled to take place on Amchitka Island, Alaska. 1

Priority is given by the Act to such suits in the District Court, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(a) (3) (1970). In accordance with this Congressional policy, we provide comparable expedition in the appellate court.


Appellees, who were defendants in the District Court, admit the existence of the documents in question, which are concerned with the environmental, national defense, and foreign relations consequences of the planned test. The documents were prepared in report form by

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a special committee chaired by Honorable John Irwin, Undersecretary of State. The Committee was established by the President on January 20, 1969, and is part of the National Security Council system. The President, on June 27, 1969, directed the Committee to review the annual underground nuclear test program. Pursuant to this direction the Committee prepared a report on the Alaskan nuclear test (code-named Cannikin).

As a result of an apparent leakage of certain portions of the report that suggested some agency disapproval of the test, Representative Patsy Mink asked the White House for copies of the report. The request was denied and this suit followed, with 32 other Members of Congress joining Representative Mink as plaintiffs. They sought summary judgment to compel disclosure of the requested documents. Appellees, defendants, filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment and a supporting affidavit executed by Undersecretary Irwin. A hearing was held on August 27, 1971, before the District Court. The District Court there-after entered an order which dismissed the complaint insofar as plaintiffs sought to maintain their action in their capacity as Members of Congress, on the ground that they failed to state a justiciable case by virtue of the Separation of Powers doctrine. Insofar as plaintiffs proceeded in their private capacity, the District Court refused to compel disclosure on the grounds that the documents fell within two of the nine exemptions contained in the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (1) (national defense and foreign affairs secrets) and 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (5) (inter-agency memoranda). Plaintiffs, appellants, noted an appeal, and now move in this court for summary reversal.


Congress tailored the Freedom of Information Act to require federal agencies to make information available to any person, unless that information must be withheld for a purpose that Congress deemed paramount to disclosure. Those matters requiring secrecy have been defined in nine exemptions to free disclosure. The two exemptions at issue in this case permit withholding of matters if they are: "(1) specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy . . . (5) inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency." 2

The Freedom of Information Act post-dates a 1953 Executive Order-No. 10501- that provides for classification of matters relating to national defense. 3 The legislative history of the Act does not define clearly the relationship between this Executive Order and the exemption of national defense and foreign affairs secrets of 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (1). Since the passage of the Act, the Executive Order has continued to be the authority for classification of matters relating to national defense. Appellants argue that the national defense and foreign affairs secrets exemption requires each and every document that an agency wishes to withhold to be classified by separate Executive Order and not by the present classification procedure. After examining the various interpretations given this exemption, 4 we conclude that summary disposition of this issue by this court is inappropriate, and should be the subject of a full consideration on the merits by this court if the appeal is continued following the disposition on remand.

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We do conclude, however, that summary disposition is appropriate in part, for the purpose of remand, on two of the matters before us.

1. The critical paper before us is the affidavit of Undersecretary Irwin, and particularly its paragraph 5. 5 We note first his statement that the documents in question include a memorandum from the Council on Environmental Quality to Undersecretary Irwin which is attached to the classified report, but "is separately unclassified." Appellees' justification for this bunching of all appendages according to the highest classification of the document to which they are attached is based on the following paragraph of section three of Executive Order 10501: 6

(b) Physically Connected Documents. The classification of a file or group of physically connected documents shall be at least as high as that of the most highly classified document therein. Documents separated from the file or group shall be handled in accordance with their individual defense classification.

This court sees no basis for withholding on security grounds a document that, although separately...

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