A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
[ table of contents ] [ next section ]
I. FILING A JUDICIAL APPEAL
When an administrative appeal is denied, a requester has the right to appeal the denial in court. A FOIA appeal lawsuit can be filed in the U.S. District Court in the district where the requester lives. The requester can also file suit in the district where the documents are located or in the District of Columbia. When a requester goes to court, the burden of justifying the withholding of documents is on the government. This is a distinct advantage for the requester.
Requesters are sometimes successful when they go to court, but the results vary considerably. Some requesters who file judicial appeals find that an agency will disclose some documents previously withheld rather than fight about disclosure in court. This does not always happen, and there is no guarantee that the filing of a judicial appeal will result in any additional disclosure.
Most requesters require the assistance of an attorney to file a judicial appeal. A person who files a lawsuit and substantially prevails may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs reasonably incurred. Some requesters may be able to handle their own case without an attorney. Since this is not a litigation guide, details of the judicial appeal process have not been included. Anyone considering filing a FOIA lawsuit can begin by reading the provisions of the FOIA on judicial review.\30\
\30\ More information on judicial review under the FOIA and Privacy Act can be found in Allan Adler, Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws (American Civil Liberties Union Foundation) (last published in 1995).