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Public Citizen v. Department of Education (“Deregulation Day”)

In October 2017, Public Citizen sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), seeking records related to an invitation-only “breakout session” that high-level ED officials had with members of the regulated community, discussing ED’s deregulatory agenda and how it could provide “regulatory relief.” ED failed to respond for seven months. On May 3, 2018, we filed a lawsuit seeking disclosure of the requested records.

After we filed our suit, ED produced approximately 450 pages of responsive documents, but many of them remained heavily redacted.  The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to redactions on thirteen pages, concerning the invitation list for ED’s “Deregulation Day” and ED’s noncompliance with public notice requirements about the events of that day. After reviewing the unredacted documents in camera and requesting supplemental ex parte briefing, the district court concluded the redactions were appropriate under the deliberative process and/or attorney-client privileges, and granted summary judgment in favor of ED. Because the litigation succeeded in prompting the agency to produce responsive records, we then moved for an award of attorney fees. The parties then settled, resulting in a fee award to Public Citizen.