32 CFR 701.12 - FOIA appeals/litigation.
(a) Appellate authorities. SECNAV has delegated his appellate authority to the JAG and the DONGC to act on matters under their cognizance. Their responsibilities include adjudicating appeals made to SECNAV on: denials of requests for copies of DON records or portions thereof; disapproval of a fee category claim by a requester; disapproval of a request to waive or reduce fees; disputes regarding fee estimates; reviewing determinations not to grant expedited access to agency records, and reviewing “no record” determinations when the requester considers such responses adverse in nature. They have the authority to release or withhold records, or portions thereof; to waive or reduce fees; and to act as required by SECNAV for appeals under 5 U.S.C. 552 and this instruction. The JAG has further delegated this appellate authority to the Assistant Judge Advocate General (Civil Law). The DONGC has further delegated this appellate authority to the Principal Deputy General Counsel, the Deputy General Counsel, and the Associate General Counsel (Management).
(1) In their capacity, appellate authorities will serve as principal points of contact on DON FOIA appeals and litigation; receive and track FOIA appeals and ensure responses are made in compliance with 5 U.S.C. 552, DoD 5400.7 and 5400.7-R, and the instruction in this part; complete responsive portions of the Annual FOIA Report that addresses actions on appeals and litigation costs during the fiscal year and submit to CNO (N09B30); provide CNO (N09B30) with a copy of all appeal determinations as they are issued; and keep CNO (N09B30) informed in writing of all FOIA lawsuits as they are filed against the DON. Appellate authorities shall facsimile a copy of the complaint to CNO (N09B30) for review and provide updates to CNO (N09B30) to review and disseminate to DFOISR.
(2) OGC's cognizance: Legal advice and services to SECNAV and the Civilian Executive Assistants on all matters affecting DON; legal services in subordinate commands, organizations, and activities in the areas of business and commercial law, real and personal property law, intellectual property law, fiscal law, civilian personnel and labor law, environmental law, and in coordination with the JAG, such other legal services as may be required to support the mission of the Navy and the Marine Corps, or the discharge of the General Counsel's responsibilities; and conducting litigation involving the areas enumerated above and oversight of all litigation affecting the DON.
(3) JAG's cognizance: In addition to military law, all matters except those falling under the cognizance of the DONGC.
(b) Appellants may file an appeal if they have been denied information in whole or in part; have been denied a waiver or reduction of fees; have been denied/have not received a response within 20 working days; or received a “no record” response or wish to challenge the “adequacy of a search” that was made. Appeal procedures also apply to the disapproval of a fee category claim by a requester, disputes regarding fee estimates, review of an expedited basis determination not to grant expedited access to agency records, or any determination found to be adverse in nature by the requester.
(c) Action by the appellate authority.
(1) Upon receipt, JAG (34) or Assistant to the General Counsel (FOIA) will promptly notify the IDA of the appeal. In turn, the IDA will provide the appellate authority with the following documents so that a determination can be made: a copy of the request, responsive documents both excised and unexcised, a copy of the denial letter, and supporting rationale for continued withholding. IDAs shall respond to the appellate authority within 10 working days.
(2) Final determinations on appeals normally shall be made within 20 working days after receipt. When the appellate authority 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.
(3) If the appeal is received by the wrong appellate authority, the time limits do not take effect until it is received by the right one. If, however, the time limit for responding cannot be met, the appellate authority shall advise the appellant that he/she may consider his/her administrative remedies exhausted. However, he/she may await a substantive response without prejudicing his/her right of judicial remedy. Nonetheless, the appellate authority will continue to process the case expeditiously, whether or not the appellant seeks a court order for release of records. In such cases, a copy of the response will be provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
(d) Addresses for filing appeals.
(1) General Counsel of the Navy, 720 Kennon Street, SE, Room 214, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC 20374-5012, or
(2) Judge Advocate General, Washington Navy Yard, 1322 Patterson Avenue, SE, Suite 3000, Washington, DC 20374-5066.
(e) Appeal letter requirements. The appellant shall file a written appeal with the cognizant appellate authority (i.e., DONGC or JAG). The appeal should include a copy of the DON response letter and supporting rationale on why the appeal should be granted.
(1) The Special Assistant for Naval Investigative Matters and Security (CNO (N09N)) may be consulted to resolve inconsistencies or disputes involving classified records.
(2) Direct liaison with officials within DON and other interested Federal agencies is authorized at the discretion of the appellate authority, who also coordinates with appropriate DoD and DOJ officials.
(3) SECNAV, appropriate Assistant or Deputy Assistant Secretaries, and CNO (N09B30) shall be consulted and kept advised of cases with unusual implications. CHINFO shall be consulted and kept advised on cases involving public affairs implications.
(4) Final refusal involving issues not previously resolved or that the DON appellate authority knows to be inconsistent with rulings of other DoD components ordinarily should not be made before consultation with the DoD Office of General Counsel (OGC).
(5) Tentative decisions to deny records that raise new and significant legal issues of potential significance to other agencies of the Government shall be provided to the DoD OGC.
(g) Copies of final appeal determinations. Appellate authorities shall provide copies of final appeal determinations to the activity affected and to CNO (N09B30) as appeals are decided.
(h) Denying an appeal. The appellate authority must render his/her decision in writing with a full explanation as to why the appeal is being denied along with a detailed explanation of the basis for refusal with regard to the applicable statutory exemption(s) invoked. With regard to denials involving classified information, the final refusal should explain that a declassification review was undertaken and based on the governing Executive Order and implementing security classification guides (identify the guides), the information cannot be released and that information being denied does not contain meaningful portions that are reasonably segregable. In all instances, the final denial letter shall contain the name and position title of the official responsible for the denial and advise the requester of the right to seek judicial review.
(i) Granting an appeal. The appellate authority must render his/her decision in writing. When an appellate authority makes a determination to release all or a portion of records withheld by an IDA, a copy of the releasable records should be promptly forwarded to the requester after compliance with any procedural requirements, such as payment of fees.
(j) Processing appeals made under PA and FOIA. When denials have been made under the provisions of PA and FOIA, and the denied information is contained in a PA system of records, the appeal shall be processed under both PA and FOIA. If the denied information is not maintained in a PA system of records, the appeal shall be processed under FOIA.
(k) Response letters.
(1) When an appellate authority makes a final determination to release all or 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 the provisions of the FOIA, and with respect to other issues appealed for which an adverse determination was made.
(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 (b)(3) statute, 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.
(l) Time limits/requirements.
(1) A FOIA appeal has been received by a DON activity when it reaches the appellate authority having jurisdiction. Misdirected appeals should be referred expeditiously to the proper appellate authority.
(2) 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 the 60 day period, the case may be considered closed. However, exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
(3) 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. Requests and responsive records that are denied shall be retained for a period of 6 years to meet the statute of limitations requirement.
(4) Final determinations on appeals normally shall be made within 20 working days after receipt. When a DON appellate authority 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 § 701.8(f)).
(5) If additional time is needed due to unusual circumstances, 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.
(6) 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, they may consider their administrative remedies exhausted. They may, however, without prejudicing their right of judicial remedy, await a substantive response. The appellate authority shall continue to process the case expeditiously.
(m) FOIA litigation. The appellate authority is responsible for providing CNO (N09B30) with a copy of any FOIA litigation filed against the DON and any subsequent status of the case. CNO (N09B30) will, in turn, forward a copy of the complaint to DFOISR for their review.