‘Backlog’ Excuse Doesn’t Fly in Greens’ FOIA Case

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge has ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to produce documents requested by environmental groups, justify its claim that it is “backlogged” and address how it is fixing the problem.
     Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation sued National Marine Fisheries Service this past June, claiming the agency refused to honor an April 2015 Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to regulatory oversight of Stanford University’s “operations and infrastructure that adversely impact steelhead trout which are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act,” according to the complaint.
     They say the agency has failed to produce the documents within the statutory time frame, hampering their efforts “to serve as an effective public-interest watchdog.”
     The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, a U.S. district court partially granting and denying the motions. The order, however, did not address a pattern and practice claim.
     U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti addressed the remaining issues Wednesday, ordering the agency to “produce those portions of the 11-page ledger which are not directly privileged or provide an explanation why the ledger is also exempted.”
     He also ordered that “all final results of any production to plaintiffs still outstanding in any FOIA request made on or prior to Sept. 9, 2015, be provided within 30 days of the date of this order.”
     In addition, Conti wants to know just how backlogged the agency is and what it plans to do to correct the problem.
     “The court orders the Fisheries Service to show cause why an injunction should not in the future issue,” Conti said. “Accordingly, the Fisheries Service is ordered to file, within 30 days of the date of this order, a document detailing precisely the status of its backlog, how the Fisheries Service intends to (or has been) fixing the problem, the effectiveness of recent changes in eliminating the backlog, how the Fisheries Service will ensure any immediate success will persist beyond the involvement of the court, and any other helpful information.”
     Finally, he ordered the parties to submit a joint document detailing any further matters the must consider within 10 days.

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