Cases & Deals

NPR obtains government disclosure and attorney’s fees in Freedom of Information Act suit

Client(s) National Public Radio, Inc.

Jones Day obtained a complete victory for National Public Radio Inc. (“NPR”), as well as one of its journalists, in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (“FEMA”) withholding of critical information regarding the use of hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds to purchase property throughout the country at risk of flooding or other natural disaster.

Although FEMA had disclosed some general information about the properties purchased with these federal funds, the agency had never disclosed (1) the addresses of those properties, (2) their geographical coordinates, or (3) the names of the property sellers. Without these details, the public could not identify the plots at issue and thus whether the program was being operated lawfully, efficiently, or effectively. But when an NPR reporter requested this information, FEMA invoked Exemption 6 under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), which permits an agency to withhold certain information that implicates personal privacy.

On behalf of NPR, Jones Day sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and obtained a complete victory at summary judgment. The court ordered FEMA to disclose the information NPR had requested, finding that disclosure would serve FOIA’s core purposes of shedding light on important government activities and that the value of disclosure outweighed any privacy interests at stake.

The government declined to appeal the district court’s ruling, and it paid NPR attorney’s fees for Jones Day’s work litigating the matter.

NPR began reporting its investigation of the information on air and on the web in March 2019.

National Public Radio, Inc., et al. v. Federal Emergency Management Agency, et al., No. 1-17-cv-00091 (D.D.C.)