WASHINGTON – Today, in a watershed victory for government transparency and accountability, the D.C. Circuit Court rejected a lower court’s limited reading of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Court’s opinion is one of the most important transparency decisions in decades.


Marking a victory for Cause of Action, a government oversight group committed to limiting the abuse of federal power, the Court rejected the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) attempt to block Cause of Action from obtaining access to documents by improperly charging fees. Instead, the Court remanded for reconsideration of Cause of Action’s status as a representative of the news media and its request as being one in the public interest.

Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision is the most significant court ruling for the news media in over a quarter-century and represents a major victory in the fight to make the federal government more transparent. As a result of this ruling, the ability of federal agencies to deny fee waivers in order to stifle the release of information has been significantly limited. We, together with our partners from the Reporters Committee, are hopeful that this decision spurs a new era of greater public access to information.”

FOIA fees have been notoriously abused by agencies to prevent startup – and even well-established – nonprofit news media organizations from obtaining government documents under fair treatment and without prohibitive fees. Notably, the Court pointed out today that fee waiver determinations are subject to judicial review, establishing that the law treats nonprofit and new media organizations equally with traditional news organizations, like newspapers and broadcast media.


In 2011, Cause of Action sought records under the FOIA from the FTC, stating we were interested in the requested documents to “inform the public about a threat to the First Amendment rights.” Cause of Action said that because we are “a nonprofit educational organization with no commercial purpose,” we are entitled to a public-interest fee waiver.

The FTC denied our request for waiver of fees in the public interest. We responded to FTC’s denial, stating FTC was incorrect and demonstrated why our request was in the public interest. Cause of Action argued that alternatively, we should be granted a fee waiver as a member of the news media.

The FTC refused, saying Cause of Action was not a news media organization entitled to a fee waiver because we had not proven we could disseminate information. The FTC gave us 100 pages without charge, pursuant to agency policy, and withheld the rest of the production pending Cause of Action’s payment of fees. Our organization refused to pay the fee and made two subsequent FOIA requests to the FTC, and received the same response each time. During that process, the FTC released 300 pages of information without charge, but withheld the rest until we paid.

Cause of Action sought review of the FTC’s decision in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012, challenging both the FTC’s decision to withhold some of the responsive records as exempt from disclosure and its denial of Cause of Action’s applications for fee waivers. The District Court ruled in favor of the FTC, and Cause of Action, joined with amici the Daily Caller News Foundation and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which issued today’s opinion.