Nearly three years after submitting its original Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request, the Project on Predatory Student Lending is still waiting for the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to fulfill its legal obligations to produce documents that Education Management Corporation produced to it in a federal whistleblower lawsuit.
On July 9, 2018, the Court ordered DOJ to produce approximately 3,600 pages of documents to the Project—documents that the government had asserted that the public had no right to. Over seven months later, DOJ still has not fully complied with the Court’s order. DOJ initially produced approximately 1,800 pages to our office, refusing to produce the remaining pages. As requested by the Project, the Court again instructed DOJ to produce the remaining 1,800 pages. DOJ then produced the outstanding pages, but many of them were either heavily or completely redacted. After the Project questioned the appropriateness of the redactions, the government determined that it would remove some of the redactions and would reproduce the documents to the Project. Though DOJ has reproduced some of the documents in question, the Project is still waiting for all documents that it is lawfully entitled to.
DOJ provided conflicting reasons for why it originally withheld documents from the Project. Initially, it cited four FOIA exemptions and protective orders in the whistleblower litigation as the basis for denying the Project’s FOIA request. Later, the government asserted that the requested documents were not agency records and indicated that it had not even searched for or reviewed potentially responsive documents. Consequently, in March 2018, the Project filed a separate FOIA request to DOJ for all records related to its original FOIA request and the administrative appeal of that original request. On December 7, 2018, the Project filed a second FOIA lawsuit against DOJ challenging its failure to respond to this second FOIA request. Despite its complete failure to respond to the Project’s second FOIA request and consistent with its previous recalcitrance to comply with legitimate FOIA requests, DOJ filed its answer in which it denies that the Project is entitled to any documents.