Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

PETITIONER: Department of Justice
RESPONDENT: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Orange County, Florida

DOCKET NO.: 87-1379
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 489 US 749 (1989)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1988
DECIDED: Mar 22, 1989

ADVOCATES:
Kevin T. Baine - Argued the cause for the respondents
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - on behalf of the petitioners

Facts of the case

CBS requested the criminal identification records of Charles Medico from the FBI. When the FBI refused the request, a CBS news correspondent and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) challenged the denial as a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). RCFP claimed that since Medico was an identified organized crime figure with corrupt ties to a United States Congressman, Medico's criminal record was a matter of "public record" and "interest." On appeal from an unfavorable appellate decision, the Supreme Court granted the U.S. Department of Justice certiorari.

Question

Is a refusal to disclose an individual's personal FBI crime record to a third party justifiable under the "personal privacy" invasion exemption of the Freedom of Information Act?

Media for Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1988 in Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 22, 1989 in Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

John Paul Stevens:

The second case, United States Department of Justice against Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is a case that comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The respondents, a CBS news correspondent and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, seek disclosure of criminal history information about certain private individuals contained in FBI wrap sheets.

Exemption 7(c) of the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes to the extent that the production of such materials could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal property.

In an opinion filed with the clerk, we hold that the interest of a private citizen in non-disclosure of a wrap sheet is the sort of personal privacy interest that congress intended exemption 7(c) to protect.

We further hold that such an invasion of privacy is not warranted under the Act when the request seeks no official information about a government agency that merely records that the government happens to be storing.

The judgment below is accordingly reversed.

Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring the judgment in which Justice Brennan has joined.