Relief and Remedies

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This article is part of a series on Litigation


The terms "judicial relief" and "judicial remedy" can be used interchangeably. They refer to the court's imposition of its will by way of enforcement of a right, imposition of a penalty, or making of another court order.

Relief Where Information Has Been Improperly Withheld

The FOIA statute imposes limitations on the types of relief a court may grant in a FOIA lawsuit[1] In particular, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has held that the statutory language of the FOIA limits relief to the disclosure of improperly withheld records to a particular requester [2] - i.e. FOIA cannot permit a court to order the publication of information, even information required to be published under subsection (a)(1). Rather, courts are permitted only to order "production" of the information to the FOIA plaintiff. 

Relief Where Information Has Been Validly Withheld

If a court determines that information falls within a FOIA exemption and has thus been validly withheld, a court has no inherent, equitable power to order disclosure.[3]

Note, however, that some courts have suggested that the Administrative Procedure Act[4] may be available in situations where the FOIA does not provide the court power to impose the requested declaratory and/or injunctive relief.[5]

Relief Where Information Has Previously Been Released

Ordinarily there can be no relief provided when an agency establishes that it has released the responsive records in full to the requester. However, the D.C. Circuit has held that a court may grant equitable relief if it finds in an exceptional case that the agency maintains an unlawful FOIA "policy or practice" threatening to impair the requester's ability to obtain records in the future, upon application of a strict "capable of repetition but evading review" standard. Typically, this will involve relief being granted where an agency has a history of long and repeated delays that appear likely to reoccur in future.[6] By contrast, if the court determines that the agency is not likely to continue the violating policy in the future, it will grant declaratory relief only. [7]

See Also

External Links


  1. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (providing jurisdiction "to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order production of any agency records improperly withheld"); see also id. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i) ("The court may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case . . . in which the complainant has substantially prevailed.").
  2. Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, 88 F.3d 1191, 1203 (D.C. Cir. 1996); Carson v. U.S. Office of Special Counsel, No. 08-317, 2009 WL 1616763, at *5 (E.D. Tenn. June 9, 2009); Hersh & Hersh v. HHS, No. 06-4234, 2007 WL 1411557, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 11, 2007)
  3. Maricopa Audubon Soc'y v. U.S. Forest Serv., 108 F.3d 1082, 1087 (9th Cir. 1997)
  5. Nat'l Sec. Counselors v. CIA, No. 11-443, 2012 WL 4903377, at *22 (D.D.C. Oct. 17, 2012); Pa. Dep't of Pub. Welfare v. United States, No. 99-175, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3492, at *28 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 7, 2001); Pub. Citizen v. Lew, No. 97-2891, slip op. at 4 (D.D.C. July 14, 1998)
  6. Payne Enters. v. United States, 837 F.2d 486, 490-92 (D.C. Cir. 1988); Hajro v. U.S. Citizenship & Imm. Servs., No. 08-1350, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117964, at *31-32 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 12, 2011); Pub. Citizen v. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 804 F. Supp. 385, 387 (D.D.C. 1992)
  7. See, e.g., Muckrock, LLC v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 300 F. Supp. 3d 108, 137 (D.D.C. 2018).