HHS Sued for Allegedly Withholding Documents After FOIA Request

A suit was filed on Thursday in District of Columbia District Court the White Coat Waste Project (WCW) against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) . The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleges that the defendant failed to comply with their request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to see documents from a federal contract.

The plaintiff submitted a request under FOIA to the Office of Research Services, Research Facilities seeking to see copies of certain documents pertaining to a federal contract held by the National Institute of Health. The documents included “procurement and shipping records for all dogs obtained under the contract… acquisition and disposition records for the dogs obtained under the contract; photos and videos of the shipments and/or dogs received,” and more.

The request was sent by the plaintiff on February 24. On February 28, the defendant acknowledged that they had received the request. The receipt of request confirmation was accompanied by an email from the defendant. The email requested a date range for sending the documents along and asked the plaintiff if they would “agree to redaction of names of NIH employees, contractors as well as the building and room numbers.”

The plaintiff provided the requested date range to the defendant and agreed to the aforementioned redactions on the same day that they were asked for by the HHS.

One month later, the WCW received another email from the defendant in which they inquired if the WCW would agree to further redaction of “the names and addresses of the companies that supply the animals.” The plaintiff made their agreement of the redactions known to the defendant in that same day.

After these correspondences, the plaintiff never received any further responses regarding their FOIA request. They assert in the complaint that they have “exhausted [their] administrative remedies with regard [to] NIH FOIA Case No. 58229 because the agency has failed to comply with the statutory time limit,” and that the defendants will continue to wrongfully withhold the requested copes from the plaintiff absent a legal remedy.

The complaint cites on count of a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs seek a declaration of the defendant’s failure to comply with their request under FOIA law, an injunction preventing the defendant from continuing to withhold the public records, litigation costs, attorney fees, and any other relief deemed proper by the court.

The plaintiff is represented by the Law Office of Matthew Strugar.