Pickard v. Department of Justice

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 07-27-2011
  • Case #: 08-15504
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Silverman for the Court; Circuit Judge Tallman; Circuit Judge Wallace concurring
  • Full Text Opinion

Under FOIA, the government cannot refuse to admit or deny the existence of records pertaining to a confidential informant when the government officially confirmed the informant’s identity and status in an open court proceeding.

William Pickard, an inmate at a federal prison, requested records from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Pickard wanted the DEA’s records on Gordon Skinner, who was a confidential informant (CI) in Pickard’s case. The DEA refused to confirm or deny the existence of any records on Skinner, citing FOIA exemptions which provide protection for personal information in law enforcement records. Pickard filed a complaint against the DEA to enforce his FOIA request. The district court entered summary judgment for the DEA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the DEA could not refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records on Skinner, in response to a FOIA request, because Skinner’s identity as a CI had been “officially confirmed” within the meaning of FOIA. The Court analyzed the plain meaning of “officially confirmed,” finding it to mean “an intentional, public disclosure made by or at the request of a government officer acting in an authorized capacity by the agency in control of the information.” The Court reasoned the DEA “officially confirmed” Skinner’s role as a CI when the government elicited testimony from him about his identity and status in “open court in the course of official and documented public proceedings.” REVERSED and REMANDED.

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