and Seattle, Washington Submitted April 13, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Washington Ronald B. Leighton, District Judge,
Presiding D.C. No. 3:15-cv-05896-RBL
Brooks (argued) and David A. Bricklin, Bricklin & Newman
LLP, Seattle, Washington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Kipnis (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Annette L.
Hayes, United States Attorney; United States Attorney's
Office, Seattle, Washington; for Defendant-Appellee.
Before: Michael Daly Hawkins and M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit
Judges, and James A. Teilborg, [*] District Judge.
McKEOWN, Circuit Judge:
of Information Act
panel reversed the district court's dismissal of a suit
brought under the Freedom of Information Act by an
environmental nonprofit organization alleging that the
Department of Energy Bonneville Power Administration failed
to turn over documents requested by one of its members, on
behalf of the organization.
district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing after
finding that the electronically submitted Freedom of
Information Act request form failed to adequately identify
the organization, A Better Way for BPA, as the requester. In
reversing the district court, the panel held that common
sense must prevail in determining who is a requester under
the Freedom of Information Act, and that in this case the
online form clearly identified the organization as the
requester. The organization therefore had standing to sue.
The panel determined that viewing the form as a whole, it was
clear that the document request was made on behalf of the
organization, that the request was not for commercial
purposes, that there was an obvious public interest, and that
the requester had members. The panel further held that any
confusion in the electronic form was of the Department's
own making and could easily be fixed. Moreover, to the extent
ambiguity existed, the follow-up correspondence between the
organization and the Department affirmed that the
organization was the requestor.
a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request
electronically is easy-fill out an online form, click submit,
and wait for the documents. Cheryl Brantley did precisely
that on behalf of A Better Way for BPA ("A Better
Way"), an environmental nonprofit group. Almost a year
later, the documents had not been turned over, so A Better
Way sued the Department of Energy Bonneville Power
Administration ("BPA"). The government challenged
the group's standing and the district court dismissed the
suit, saying that the submitted form did not adequately
identify the organization as the requester. We disagree. FOIA
forms should not be a "gotcha" proposition
requiring a lexicographer to discern who made the request.
But here, the submitted form's unambiguous reference to A
Better Way, confirming correspondence, and common sense make
clear that A Better Way was the requester and consequently
has standing to sue.
follows is a detailed chronology of the events related to the
FOIA request. We provide these specifics because both the
submitted form and the correspondence between the requester
and agency are important to our conclusion that A Better Way
made the request and thus has standing to bring this suit.
Brantley, a member of A Better Way, submitted a FOIA request
on January 31, 2015. Using the electronic form on BPA's