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Coleman v. Department of the Interior

Jesse Coleman, an investigative journalist and researcher for Documented, an organization that researches corporate influence over public policy, submitted five FOIA requests to the Department of the Interior from July 2017 through March 2018 that received no response from the agency. On September 6, 2018, Mr. Coleman, represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group, filed suit seeking disclosure of the requested records.

After the lawsuit was filed, the agency began producing responsive documents to all five of Mr. Coleman’s FOIA requests. In response to one of Mr. Coleman’s FOIA requests, which concerned the approval of then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s non-commercial flights, the agency withheld in full a two-page document. Although the document was apparently created by the Director of Travel and Events within the Executive Office of the President and sent to a Senior Budget Analyst at the Department of Interior, the agency withheld the document under exemption 5 pursuant to the attorney-client privilege.

On September 16, 2019, the agency filed a motion for summary judgment as to its withholding of this two-page document. On October 14, 2019, Mr. Coleman filed a combined opposition to the agency’s motion and cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the attorney-client privilege does not apply.  After Mr. Coleman filed his cross-motion, the agency disclosed the withheld two-page document without any redactions under exemption 5. The parties dismissed the lawsuit thereafter.