United States Department Of Justice v. Tax Analysts

492 U.S. 136 (1989)


Tax Analysts (P) publishes a weekly magazine, Tax Notes, which reports on legislative, judicial, and regulatory developments in the field of federal taxation to a readership largely composed of tax attorneys, accountants, and economists. Tax Notes provides summaries of recent federal court decisions on tax issues. P also provides full texts of these decisions in microfiche form. P also publishes Tax Notes Today, a daily electronic database that includes summaries and full texts of recent federal court tax decisions. P filed a FOIA request asking D to make available all district court tax opinions and final orders received by the Tax Division earlier that month. D denied the request on the ground that these decisions were not Tax Division records. A whole lot of wrangling went on for a number of years. P and D tried to negotiate and work out a deal. P got very frustrated and then issued more FOIA requests. D denied those requests and P appealed this denial administratively and lost. P then filed this suit. The court granted D’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) had not been satisfied. The court reasoned that the district court decisions at issue had not been 'improperly withheld,' because they 'already are available from their primary sources, the District Courts,' and thus were 'on the public record.' The court did not address whether the district court decisions are 'agency records.' The Court of Appeals reversed and concluded that the documents nonetheless constituted 'agency records' because D has the discretion to use the decisions as it sees fit, because the Department routinely uses the decisions in performing its official duties, and because the decisions are integrated into the Department's official case files. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.