Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety v. Federal Highway Administration

Topic(s): 
Government Transparency — FOIA
Documents:
Case Description: 

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), seeking records regarding the ET-Plus guardrail, which was defectively designed and responsible for many highway deaths and injuries. Citing the importance of highway safety to the public and Advocates’ extensive activities as a non-profit organization focused on vehicle and highway safety issues, Advocates requested a public-interest fee waiver. The agency granted the waiver for three categories of information, but it denied the fee waiver for categories related to employee communications. Public Citizen represented Advocates in a FOIA lawsuit against FHWA, seeking an order compelling FHWA to produce records responsive to Advocates’ request at no cost to Advocates.

Approximately two months after the complaint was filed, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, in which FHWA agreed to grant Advocates’ fee-waiver request, Advocates agreed to narrow the scope of one of the categories of requested documents, and FHWA agreed to produce all remaining nonexempt responsive documents by January 1, 2016. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Advocates dismissed its complaint.

Advocates did not receive any documents by the January 1, 2016 deadline. In light of FHWA’s breach of the settlement agreement, the parties jointly moved to re-open the case to seek a consent order requiring FHWA to release all non-exempt documents responsive to Advocates’ FOIA request (as modified by the settlement agreement) by February 25, 2016. The court granted the motion and signed the consent order.

Over the first few months of 2016, FHWA released records to Advocates. On July 11, 2016, the parties stipulated to dismissal of the case.