Golden Gate University Law Review


Kayla Hughes


This case summary details the decision in Transgender L. Ctr. v. Immigr. & Customs Enf’t, 46 F.4th 771 (9th Cir. 2022), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit analyzed whether the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) had properly responded to a request for information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. § 552). The Transgender Law Center (TLC) had filed a complaint of an asylum-seeker who had died in the custody of ICE. In furtherance of its claim, TLC had submitted two FOIA requests regarding the circumstances of the complainant’s death. Due to a perceived lack of timeliness and inadequacy of the responses, TLC filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Although the district court granted TLC’s request for a declaratory judgment that the agencies had failed to timely respond to their FOIA requests, the district court in all other respects ruled for the defending agencies. TLC timely appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit considered several aspects of the defending agencies’ responses, including the adequacy of the government’s search; the sufficiency of the defending agencies’ Vaughn indexes; whether withholdings and redactions complied with FOIA exemptions; the segregability of certain information; whether duplicative and non-responsive designations were appropriate; and whether the defending agencies had properly responded to expedited processing requests. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit held that government agencies must provide precise, easily reviewable explanations when asserting exemptions to the FOIA. Further, government agencies defending themselves in FOIA complaints must establish the adequacy of their searches beyond a material doubt, with any exemptions interpreted narrowly. Finally, this case illuminates what constitutes “adequacy” by laying out precisely what must be disclosed in a response to an FOIA request.