(a)General. If the official designated DoD Component to make initial determinations on requests for records declines to provide a record because the official considers it exempt under one or more of the exemptions of the FOIA, that decision may be appealed by the requester, in writing, to a designated appellate authority. The appeal should be accompanied by a copy of the letter denying the initial request. Such appeals should contain the basis for disagreement with the initial refusal. Appeal procedures also apply to the disapproval of a fee category claim by a requester, disapproval of a request for waiver or reduction of fees, disputes regarding fee estimates, review on an expedited basis a determination not to grant expedited access to agency records, for no record determinations when the requester considers such responses adverse in nature, not providing a response determination to a FOIA request within the statutory time limits, or any determination found to be adverse in nature by the requester. When denials have been made under the provisions of the Privacy Act and the FOIA, and the denied information is contained in a Privacy Act system of records, appeals shall be processed under both the Privacy Act and the FOIA. If the denied information is not maintained in a Privacy Act system of records, the appeal shall be processed under the FOIA. Appeals of Office of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff determinations may be sent to the address in appendix B of this part. If a request is merely misaddressed, and the receiving DoD Component simply advises the requester of such and refers the request to the appropriate DoD Component, this shall not be considered a no record determination.
(b)Time of receipt. A FOIA appeal has been received by a DoD Component when it reaches the office of an appellate authority having jurisdiction. Misdirected appeals should be referred expeditiously to the proper appellate authority.
(1) The requester shall be advised to file an appeal so that it is postmarked no later than 60 calendar days after the date of the initial denial letter. If no appeal is received, or if the appeal is postmarked after the conclusion of this 60-day period, the appeal may be considered closed. However, exceptions to the above may be considered on a case by case basis. In cases where the requester is provided several incremental determinations for a single request, the time for the appeal shall not begin until the date of the final response. Records that are denied shall be retained for a period of six years to meet the statute of limitations requirement.
(2) Final determinations on appeals normally shall be made within 20 working days after receipt. When a DoD Component has a significant number of appeals preventing a response determination within 20 working days, the appeals shall be processed in a multitrack processing system, based at a minimum, on the three processing tracks established for initial requests. See § 286.4(d) of this part. All of the provisions of § 286.4(d) apply also to appeals of initial determinations, to include establishing additional processing queues as needed.
(d)Delay in responding to an appeal.
(1) If additional time is needed due to the unusual circumstances described in § 286.23(f), the final decision may be delayed for the number of working days (not to exceed 10), that were not used as additional time for responding to the initial request.
(2) If a determination cannot be made and the requester notified within 20 working days, the appellate authority shall acknowledge to the requester, in writing, the date of receipt of the appeal, the circumstances surrounding the delay, and the anticipated date for substantive response. Requesters shall be advised that, if the delay exceeds the statutory extension provision or is for reasons other than the unusual circumstances identified in § 286.23(f), they may consider their administrative remedies exhausted. They may, however, without prejudicing their right of judicial remedy, await a substantiative response. The DoD component shall continue to process the case expeditiously.
(e)Response to the requester.
(1) When an appellate authority makes a final determination to release all or a portion of records withheld by an IDA, a written response and a copy of the records so released should be forwarded promptly to the requester after compliance with any preliminary procedural requirements, such as payment of fees.
(2) Final refusal of an appeal must be made in writing by the appellate authority or by a designated representative. The response, at a minimum, shall include the following:
(i) The basis for the refusal shall be explained to the requester in writing, both with regard to the applicable statutory exemption or exemptions invoked under provisions of the FOIA, and with respect to other appeal matters as set forth in paragraph (a) of this section.
(ii) When the final refusal is based in whole or in part on a security classification, the explanation shall include a determination that the record meets the cited criteria and rationale of the governing Executive Order, and that this determination is based on a declassification review, with the explanation of how that review confirmed the continuing validity of the security classification.
(iii) The final denial shall include the name and title or position of the official responsible for the denial.
(iv) In the case of appeals for total denial of records, the response shall advise the requester that the information being denied does not contain meaningful portions that are reasonably segregable.
(v) When the denial is based upon an exemption 3 statute (subpart C of this part), the response, in addition to citing the statute relied upon to deny the information, shall state whether a court has upheld the decision to withhold the information under the statute, and shall contain a concise description of the scope of the information withheld.
(vi) The response shall advise the requester of the right to judicial review.
(1) Final refusal involving issues not previously resolved or that the DoD Component knows to be inconsistent with rulings of other DoD Components ordinarily should not be made before consultation with the DoD Office of the General Counsel.
(2) Tentative decisions to deny records that raise new or significant legal issues of potential significance to other Agencies of the Government shall be provided to the DoD Office of the General Counsel.