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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. United States Food and Drug Administration

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 22, 2013

ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ELIZABETH D. LaPORTE, District Judge.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in this suit brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 522, et seq. On August 13, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the parties' motions. For the reasons stated at the hearing and in this Order, both motions are granted in part and denied in part.

Facts[1]

On December 19, 2011, the Division of Freedom of Information, Office of the Executive Secretariat, United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") received a FOIA request from Plaintiff seeking records concerning egg production farms in Texas. Sadler Decl. Ex. A; Kaelin Decl. ¶¶ 7, 8. In particular, Plaintiff sought the following documents:

1. All FDA documents since April 26, 2011 relating to egg safety in Texas, egg production in Texas, or egg production facilities in Texas;
2. All FDA communications between FDA and Texas state government agencies since April 26, 2011 relating to egg safety, egg production or egg production facilities;
3. All FDA communications between FDA and egg producers in Texas since April 26, 2011.

Sadler Decl. ¶ 8; Ex. A. Plaintiff's FOIA request was forwarded to the Dallas District Office, which handles information requests regarding FDA's activities in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Sadler Decl. ¶ 10; Kaelin Decl. ¶¶ 1, 7.

The staff in the Dallas office searched for all potentially responsive records in all of the locations where such information was reasonably likely to exist, including two FDA databases and the Dallas District Office file room. Kaelin Decl. ¶ 9. The staff first searched the Online Reporting Analysis Decision Support System ("ORADSS"), a data system that generates reports by compiling data about firms, inspections, and other regulatory activities from FDA's Field Accomplishment and Compliance Tracking System ("FACTS") according to user-provided criteria such as time frame, location or commodity. Kaelin Decl. ¶ 9. The staff searched for responsive records in FACTS for information about the firms identified in the ORADSS reports as possibly having responsive information. Id . Then, the staff searched the Dallas District Office's file room for records associated with the records identified by ORADSS and FACTS as potentially responsive. Id . The staff searched the ORADSS and FACTS databases and the file room broadly for any records relating to egg production facilities and egg safety in Texas since April 26, 2011, and did not confine the search to facilities dealing only with chicken egg production. Id.

The Dallas office's search revealed numerous records regarding egg production facilities and egg safety, including Lists of Establishment Inspection Reports ("EIRs"), which are investigators' narrative reports of their inspection findings at FDA-regulated facilities; Inspectional Observations, which are issued to firms at the close of inspections when violations are observed; correspondence between FDA and facilities; and results from salmonella enteritidis sampling conducted at the facilities. Kaelin Decl. ¶ 10. The search found records regarding chicken egg producers, quail egg producers, food manufacturers, food warehouses and food distribution centers. Id . The search did not reveal any communications since April 26, 2011 between the FDA and Texas state government agencies that pertained to item two of the FOIA request. Id.

After identifying the responsive records, the Dallas District Office conducted a line-by-line review of each record to determine whether any information was exempt from disclosure under the FOIA and to ascertain what information was reasonably segregable from exempt information. Kaelin Decl. ¶ 12. Virtually all of the redactions of the responsive information were made pursuant to exemption 4, which exempts confidential commercial information from public disclosure. Id . Among the information that was redacted was the information at issue in this case:

(1) total hen population;
(2) number of hen houses;
(3) number of floors per house;
(4) number of cage rows per house;
(5) number of cage tiers per ...

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