John Doe Agcy. v. John Doe Corp.,
493 U.S. 146 (1989)

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U.S. Supreme Court

John Doe Agcy. v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146 (1989)

John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corporation

No. 88-1083

Argued Oct. 2, 1989

Decided Dec. 11, 1989

493 U.S. 146


In connection with a 1978 periodic audit, respondent defense contractor and petitioner Defense Contract Auditing Agency (DCAA) corresponded concerning respondent's accounting treatment of certain costs. Eight years later, a federal grand jury investigating possible fraudulent practices by respondent issued a subpoena requesting respondent's documents relating to the 1978 cost allocation question. Respondent submitted to the DCAA a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any documents relating to the subject matter of their correspondence. The DCAA denied the request citing, inter alia, Exemption 7(A) of the FOIA, which exempts from disclosure "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" under certain circumstances. Two days later, the requested records were transferred to petitioner Federal Bureau of Investigation, which denied respondent's renewed FOIA request, citing Exemption 7(A). Respondent sought review in the District Court, which ruled that petitioners were not required to turn over any of the documents and dismissed the complaint, stating that disclosure would jeopardize the grand jury proceeding. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the Government may not invoke Exemption 7(A) to protect from disclosure materials that were not investigatory records when originally collected, but have since acquired investigative significance.

Held: Exemption 7(A) may be invoked to prevent the disclosure of documents not originally created for, but later gathered for, law enforcement purposes. The plain words of the statute contain no requirement that compilation be effected at a specific time, but merely require that the objects sought be compiled when the Government invokes the Exemption. The Court of Appeals erred in interpreting the word "compile" to mean "originally compiled," since "compiled" naturally refers to the process of gathering at one time records and information that were generated on an earlier occasion, and for a different purpose. This reading of the statute recognizes the balance struck by Congress between the public's interest in greater access to information and the Government's need to protect certain kinds of information from disclosure, and is supported by the FOIA's legislative history. Pp. 493 U. S. 153-158.

850 F.2d 105 (CA 21988), reversed and remanded.

Page 493 U. S. 147

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., also filed a separate statement, post, p. 493 U. S. 158. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 493 U. S. 158. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, 493 U. S. 159. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 493 U. S. 160.

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