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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Not Liable for FOIA Saga of U.S. Detainee

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. government does not have to cover the attorneys' fees of man who thought it had documents about his detention in Yemen, a federal judge ruled.

Sharif Mobley, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Yemen, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records from the Department of Justice detailing his capture and detention in Yemen on suspicion of murder. Although the details of his arrest are unclear, Mobley says he is accused of murdering a prison guard, and believes the U.S. government had something to do with his arrest.

After admitting that it identified 13 relevant documents, the government claimed that national defense and attorney-client privilege provided FOIA exemptions.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell nevertheless ruled that the government had not properly explained why it withheld the records.

Eventually the government found and released an unclassified email exchange between DOJ's Civil Division and its Office of Legal Counsel, but Howell said this victory does not make the government liable for the $1,385 in attorneys' fees that Mobley claims to have accumulated.

Mobley's petition for fees also came more than six months after his case was closed, Howell said Monday.

"The court agrees with the defendant that plaintiff's motion should be denied both because their petition was untimely and because they are not eligible for attorneys' fees under FOIA," the ruling states.

In previous filings, Mobley conceded that his FOIA requests were a long shot, but he was able to extend his case by challenging whether the government improperly withheld records of his arrest. Believing that the U.S. government played a role in his arrest and incarceration, his attorney asked the Justice Department to explain if the documents were "general records about renditions and the like, or they directly discuss Mr. Mobley."

The email released by the Justice Department marked the end of Mobley's case.

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