Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Judge Trevor McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled today that Cause of Action Institute has standing to sue to seek former Secretary of State Colin Powell's work-related e-mails on his personal AOL account. The ruling means that the case can move forward.
Cause of Action Institute first sought the Powell e-mails through a FOIA request. But after the State Department said that the e-mails no longer exist, the organization sued under the Federal Records Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. State and the Archivist moved to dismiss, arguing that Cause's harm (not getting the e-mails) couldn't be redressed by a favorable court ruling, because, after all, the e-mails no longer exist. Without redressibility, there's no standing.
The court disagreed. Judge McFadden ruled, in short, that the government hadn't tried hard enough to obtain the missing e-mails, given its mandatory obligations to recover missing records under the FRA. The court followed the D.C. Circuit's lead in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Kerry, which held that a similar case seeking former Secretary Clinton's missing e-mails wasn't moot, and noted that further government investigation in that case led to the discovery of many of those e-mails. The same could be true here, the court reasoned, meaning that Cause could show that a court order for the government to investigate further could lead to the discovery of the e-mails--and that it therefore has standing.
Today's ruling--again, backed by the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Judicial Watch--means that Cause's case can move forward and seek a court order for the government to initiate action under the FRA through the Attorney General for recovery of the e-mails.