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Lucaj v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 24, 2017

Doda Lucaj, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Federal Bureau of Investigation; United States Department of Justice, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: January 27, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Flint. No. 4:14-cv-12635-Terrence George Berg, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Martin E. Crandall, CLARK HILL PLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Derri T. Thomas, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Martin E. Crandall, Andrew M. Mast, Zachary A. Rowley, CLARK HILL PLC, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Derri T. Thomas, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellees.

          Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

          The Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") "implements a general philosophy of full agency disclosure of government records, " Detroit Free Press Inc. v. DOJ, 829 F.3d 478, 480 (6th Cir. 2016) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted), subject to certain exemptions. At issue in this case is the exemption from disclosure for "matters that are . . . inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) (2012). The Defendants-Appellees, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), argue that "inter-agency or intra-agency" includes agencies of other countries. Their entreaty, which could be easily granted by an Act of Congress, cannot so easily be granted by us. We must follow the plain language of § 552(b)(5), which, as we discuss below, is limited to memorandums or letters between authorities of the Government of the United States. Therefore, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court, which granted summary judgment to the Government, and we REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case began with an FBI investigation into Plaintiff-Appellant Doda Lucaj, whom it believed to be connected to "attacks made by an ethnic Albanian group against facilities in Montenegro in hopes of influencing Montenegrin elections." R. 22-2 (Hardy Decl. ¶ 5) (Page ID #327). Lucaj was indicted by Montenegrin authorities in 2006 and was arrested shortly thereafter in Vienna, Austria. Id. Of the belief that his arrest was "illegal, " and furthermore that the United States was involved, see R. 1 (Compl. ¶¶ 1-3) (Page ID #1-2), Lucaj sent a letter to the FBI requesting three pieces of information pursuant to FOIA:

1. Any and all information relating to any investigation, arrest, detention, and/or interrogation of Mr. Lucaj [related to his arrest, detention, and interrogation in ...

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