National Archives And Records Administration v. Favish

541 U.S. 157 (2004)


Vincent Foster, Jr., deputy counsel to President Clinton, was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, located just outside Washington, D. C. The Park Police conducted the initial investigation and took color photographs of the death scene, including 10 pictures of Foster's body. The investigation concluded that Foster committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. Subsequent investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and independent counsels Robert Fiske and Kenneth Starr reached the same conclusion. Despite the unanimous finding of these five investigations, Favish (P), remained skeptical. P applied under FOIA for Foster's death-scene photographs. P sought among other things, 11 pictures, 1 showing Foster's eyeglasses and 10 depicting various parts of Foster's body. The National Park Service refused the request under Exemption 7(C). With the exception of the picture showing Foster's eyeglasses, the court upheld D's claim of exemption. The court held that Foster's surviving family members enjoy personal privacy interests that could be infringed by disclosure of the photographs. The court concluded that 'the privacy interests of the Foster family members outweigh the public interest in disclosure' mainly because of the 5 investigations already done. On appeal, the court held that the exemption applied to the family members but that the district court had improperly balanced the interests at stake. On remand 5 photos were released. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.