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San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. United States Dep't of the Navy

March 21, 2008

SAN DIEGO NAVY BROADWAY COMPLEX COALITION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Thomas J. Whelan United States District Judge

MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF THE FOIA CLAIM [DOC. 6] ORDER DENYING NAVY'S

On August 17, 2007, Defendant United States Department of the Navy ("Navy") filed a summary-judgment motion. On January 9, 2008, the Court issued an ordering continuing the motion as to Plaintiff's Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") claim, and granting the motion as to the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") claim and defendant Donald C. Winter. On February 8, 2008, the parties filed their supplemental briefing on the FOIA claim.

The Court decides the matter on the papers submitted and without oral argument under Civil Local Rule 7.1(d.1). For the reasons addressed below, the Court DENIES the Navy's motion for summary judgment of the FOIA claim.

I. BACKGROUND

The following factual summary is undisputed and repeated from the Court's previous order.

On October 4, 2005, the Navy solicited proposals for the development of a portion of what is known as the Broadway Complex in San Diego. Manchester Pacific Gateway, LLC ("Manchester") was one of the proposers who submitted proprietary and confidential financial and commercial information to the Navy. On November 22, 2006, the Navy awarded the solicitation to Manchester, and the parties entered into a Real Estate Ground Lease for Broadway Complex, Lease No. N6247307RP07P24 (the "Lease").

On January 10, 2007, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the Navy for a complete and unredacted copy of the Lease. The Navy denied the request. After an unsuccessful administrative appeal, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the Navy and Donald C. Winter, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Navy. The Complaint asserts claims for violation of FOIA and the APA.

The Navy responded to the Complaint by filing a summary-judgment motion. On January 9, 2008, the Court granted the motion as to Plaintiff's APA claim and defendant Winter. With respect to the FOIA claim, however, the Court found that the record was insufficient to support the Navy's claim that redactions of entire portions of the Lease were appropriate under Exemption 4 to FOIA. The Court, therefore, continued the motion to give the Navy an opportunity to supplement the record. The matter is now fully briefed.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56(c) where the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322--23. If the moving party fails to discharge this initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159--60 (1970).

III. ANALYSIS

FOIA was enacted "to promote honest and open government" and "to ensure public access to information created by the government. . . ." Wood v. FBI, 432 F.3d 78, 82 (2nd Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). Because FOIA favors a policy of disclosure, the statutory exemptions are construed narrowly, resolving all doubts in favor of disclosure. Lion Raisins v. U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture, 354 F.3d 1072, 1079 (9th Cir. 2004).

Exemption 4 of FOIA excepts the disclosure of commercial or financial information that is "privileged or confidential." Frazee v. U.S. Forest Service, 97 F.3d 367, 370 (9th Cir. 1996); 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(b)(4). Relevant in evaluating whether Exemption 4 applies is if the information "would customarily not be released to the public by the person from whom it was obtained." Critical Mass Energy Project v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 975 F.2d 871, 874 (D.C.Cir. 1992). This, however, is not the only factor. The "court must also be satisfied that non-disclosure is justified by the ...


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