Sun-Sentinel Company v. United States Department Of Homeland Security

431 F.Supp.2d 1258 (D. Fla. 2006)


D is responsible for administering and coordinating the federal government response to Presidentially-declared disasters. D provides 'federal assistance programs for public and private losses and needs sustained in disasters.' In 2004, Florida was struck by four hurricanes in a single season. D opened over 150 Disaster Recovery Centers throughout Florida. Nearly $1.2 billion has been disbursed in individual assistance in response to applications from more than 1.2 million applicants. D disbursed more than $31 million in individual assistance to Miami-Dade County, where the National Weather Service reported that the strongest sustained winds during Hurricane Frances were tropical storm strength, where the highest recorded accumulation of rainfall was 3.77 inches, and where there was no reported flooding. Over a dozen individuals were indicted for making false claims of assistance. The Inspector General's Audit found that: (1) D designated Miami-Dade County eligible for individual assistance without a proper preliminary damage assessment; (2) claims were not properly verified; (3) guidelines for making awards were generally lacking; (4) oversight of inspections was deficient and (5) funds disbursed in Miami-Dade County were not based on actual losses. D's inspectors were poorly trained and lacked oversight. The investigation examined only three percent of the nearly $ 31 million awarded to Miami-Dade County residents. The United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs launched an investigation into 'allegations of fraud and waste in the distribution of disaster aid by D.' In some instances, D inspectors filled out forms without ever showing up at the houses to inspect the purportedly damaged property. Twenty-two percent of D inspectors processing individual assistance claims in Florida had criminal records. By letter dated September 28, 2004, P under the FOIA requested a copy of the database used to track FEMA assistance requests and awards associated with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. D provided P with 9,000 pages of eligibility and inspection spreadsheets, which provided a breakdown by zip codes of individual assistance applications and payouts for Hurricane Frances for Miami-Dade County from September 4, 2004, through October 18, 2004. D withheld the names and addresses of individual aid claimants and the addresses of damaged properties under Exemption 6. P requested, among other things, the names of inspectors who conducted inspections in Miami-Dade County, certain e-mails to or from Michael Brown, the former Under Secretary of D, and audits, inspector general reviews, and quality control reviews of D Individual Assistance Programs. See Exhibit 10 attached to the Amended Complaint. D provided P with the names of the companies providing inspectors for Miami-Dade County. D did not maintain records of the names of individual inspectors. D withheld the inspectors' identification numbers under FOIA Exemptions 4 and 6. D asserted that five e-mails were redacted and twenty pages of e-mails were withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5. P made another request, pursuant to FOIA but expanded the scope. That response included inspection information on each particular individual claimant which included: category of assistance; assistance status and type, eligibility date, eligible amount, ownership status, water level, cause of damage, insurance status for each item, description of each item, including personal property description, clothing, real property damage type, damage level as well as other information. D asserted FOIA Exemption 6 as its basis for withholding the names and addresses of individual aid claimants. D asserted FOIA Exemptions 4 and 6 for withholding the inspector's names and identification numbers responsive to this request. D withheld inspector comments claiming that a search for this material would interfere with the operation of the entire disaster processing system. D produced its Vaughn Index and affidavits. D seeks the following: (1) the names of the disaster applicants and the addresses of where the claimed property damage occurred; (2) the names and identification numbers of the inspectors who conducted inspections for individual assistance applications; (3) quality control inspection reports prepared by D contractors; and (4) certain e-mail communications to or from Brown. D contends it is prohibited from releasing names and addresses of disaster claimants or the names and identification numbers of the inspectors pursuant to the Privacy Act. D claims that P is not entitled to the information withheld from the e-mails. Both parties moved for summary judgment.