John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corporation

PETITIONER: John Doe Agency
RESPONDENT: John Doe Corporation
LOCATION: Circuit Court for Howard County

DOCKET NO.: 88-1083
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 493 US 146 (1989)
ARGUED: Oct 02, 1989
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1989

Edwin S. Kneedler - on behalf of the Petitioner
Milton Eisenberg - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 02, 1989 in John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corporation

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument now on number 88-1083, John Doe Agency and John Doe Government Agency versus John Doe Corporation.

Mr. Kneedler.

Edwin S. Kneedler:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case concerns the interpretation of the law enforcement exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.

That exemption, Exemption 7, provides that the Act

"does not apply to matters that are records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes. "

if the production of the records or information would produce any one of six enumerated harms.

This Court has repeatedly recognized the importance of the public and private interests that are protected by Exemption 7, in Robbins Tire, in Abramson and in Reporters Committee.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Kneedler, do you know anything about how the parties all got this John Doe denomination in the District Court?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

There was the proceeding... the Court of Appeals granted a motion for the proceedings on appeal to proceed under seal, and as a result of that, the... the... we have... we have continued to comply with the, with the requirement that the agencies be referred to as John Doe Agency and John Doe Government Agency.

We have... we have no objection to disclosing the names of the agencies.

We have just continued under that practice because that was the order in the Court of Appeals.

William H. Rehnquist:

The Court of Appeals directed--

Edwin S. Kneedler:


William H. Rehnquist:

--that everybody be designated as a John Doe?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

or... or... under seal... under seal, so that... at least with the names under seal, so that the public would not know.

William H. Rehnquist:

Thank you.

Edwin S. Kneedler:

As I have said, the Court has repeatedly recognized the importance of these law enforcement interests, and after Abramson was decided, Congress in fact built upon Abramson and expanded the coverage of Exemption 7, to ensure that law enforcement information would be protected irrespective of the format in which it was collected.

Foremost among the purposes of Exemption 7, as this Court and Congress have repeatedly stated, was to protect the government's case from interference.

The circumstances of this case well illustrate the importance of Exemption 7 in this regard.

The Freedom of Information Act request was submitted in the context of an ongoing grand jury proceeding.

It was submitted by a target of that investigation, and the District Court specifically found that the... this... that production of the documents would jeopardize the proceedings.

The Court of Appeals--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Kneedler, at the time the request was made here, had the documents in your view been compiled or were they compiled after the request was made?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

--The documents were compiled after the request was made, but in our view they were... they were compiled... compiled for law enforcement purposes; they were compiled for law enforcement purposes before the request was denied.

The sequence of events was that the Freedom of Information Act... the... the grand jury... or the criminal investigation began in 1985.

There was a subpoena in 1986, in February, to the corporation.

As a result of that, the corporation alerted to the investigation and filed a FOIA request in September of 1986 with the John Doe Agency, the auditing agency involved in the case.

That agency consulted with the law enforcement agency involved in the case, and on the advice of that law enforcement agency, denied the request on November 18.

And then on November 20th, the documents deemed responsive to the FOIA request were transferred from the first agency to the second agency.