PETA Wins Small Fee Award in FOIA Case

     (CN) – PETA can only recover 10 percent of its requested attorneys’ fees after a minor victory in a suit seeking documents from a government investigation of animal abuse, a federal judge ruled.
     People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed three Freedom of Information Act requests with the National Institute of Health in 2006 related to an investigation of animal abuse at an Auburn University research lab.
     The D.C. Circuit ruled last year that the NIH’s blanket refusal to confirm or deny the existence of responsive documents was unreasonable.
     All documents about individual researchers were exempt from disclosure due to privacy interests, a judge ruled, but PETA has an interest in “learning how NIH handles complaints concerning animal abuse and misappropriation of federal research funds.”
     The court ordered the NIH to release documents showing “that NIH responded to complaints about the three researchers by conducting an investigation that did not target the researchers themselves.”
     In a post-remand search, the NIH found no responsive documents.
     Following this small victory, PETA sought to recover attorneys’ fees and costs of $227,000.
     However, “given the very narrow relief plaintiff obtained in this case,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson awarded the animal rights group only 10 percent of its request, $22,700.
     “The complaint raised three counts, two of which were dismissed, and the dismissals were summarily affirmed. Plaintiff did not prevail on Count II at the trial level, and the district court’s ruling with respect to the bulk of records called for under a fair reading of the request in question was also upheld,” Jackson wrote. “It prevailed only to the extent the request could be broadly read to seek other documents. And even with respect to that category of documents, it turned out there were no responsive documents.”

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