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Howell v. DOJ

Public Citizen represented a prisoner seeking to obtain a copy of his pre-sentence investigation report (PSR) under FOIA. The government conceded that plaintiff’s PSR was subject to disclosure under FOIA, and the government did not invoke any FOIA exemption to justify its refusal to produce the document for copying and retention by the prisoner. Instead, the government claimed that it satisfied FOIA by allowing plaintiff to see his PSR from time to time under procedures that explicitly forbid plaintiff from “obtaining or possessing” a copy of his PSR. We argued that FOIA entitles requesters to obtain copies of responsive documents that are not exempt from disclosure.

The district court ruled for the government, relying on an intervening decision of the DC Circuit holding that FOIA does not entitle a prisoner to have copies of his PSRs where he is afforded a meaningful opportunity to review his PSRs and to take notes on them.