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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Federal Election Commission

In this case, a federal district court dismissed a FOIA lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), holding that CREW failed to exhaust administrative remedies with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) before filing suit. At the time that CREW filed suit, FOIA’s time limit for an agency determination had expired. The FEC had not granted or denied CREW’s request and had not provided CREW with notice of a right to an administrative appeal. All that the FEC had done was indicate that it was processing CREW’s FOIA request and state that it would make rolling document disclosures at a later date. Only after CREW filed suit did the FEC provide CREW with a letter that denied CREW’s FOIA request in part, explained the agency’s decision to redact and withhold certain records under FOIA’s substantive exemptions, and notified CREW of a right to administrative appeal.

CREW appealed the district court’s decision dismissing the case. PCLG submitted an amicus brief in support of CREW on behalf of Public Citizen, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). The D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, holding that the FEC’s response did not constitute a FOIA “determination” sufficient to require an administrative appeal before CREW filed suit.