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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. USDA

This case involves the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) attempt to restore public access to databases concerning enforcement activities of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The websites were taken off-line in early 2017 and have been only partially restored. ALDF brought suit claiming that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires that USDA make the APHIS databases available to the public in its electronic reading room. A federal district court dismissed the action, holding that FOIA does not allow a court to grant injunctive relief requiring an agency to comply with FOIA’s electronic reading room provision. In so ruling, the district court adopted the D.C. Circuit’s similar holding in CREW v. Department of Justice. ALDF appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief urging the court not to follow the D.C. Circuit’s decision in CREW.  On August 29, 2019, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of ALDF and adopted the position advocated by Public Citizen: FOIA allows a court to remedy violations of its requirement that agency’s provide public access to certain records.