The opinion of the court was delivered by: BEEKS
By two separate actions which have been consolidated, plaintiffs seek production of investigative files, manuals, codebooks and reports of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Certain documents were heretofore exempted from disclosure by the court and other documents have been voluntarily disclosed by the IRS during the course of these proceedings.
There are the Closing Agreement Handbook, Internal Revenue Manual 8(13)00 et seq. (Manual), and Management Information Report, Source of Returns-Income Taxes, Document #5342 (Report). The issue as to those documents voluntarily disclosed is mooted.
The government has moved for summary judgment in both cases contending that the documents are not administrative staff manuals that affect a member of the public and are exempted by 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(2) and (b)(5). Extensive written briefs have been filed and the documents have been viewed by the Court in camera.
The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to expand citizen access to government information with a minimum of difficulty.
The Act provides that documents of the kind in question may be viewed by the public unless specifically exempted by any one of nine exemptions.
The exemptions are to be narrowly construed.
The district court has jurisdiction to enjoin the agency withholding by a de novo review with the burden of proof on the agency to sustain its action.
In exercising its equity jurisdiction the court must consider the effects of disclosure and nondisclosure according to traditional equity principles, the effect on the public being of primary consideration.
In determining whether a document is exempt under Sec. 552(b)(5) the court must determine whether it is an intra-agency memorandum or letter which would not be available to a party in any litigation in which the agency having the records might be involved. The standards for decision are the discovery practices, as regulated by the courts.
The purpose and intent of the exemption is to allow frank and uninhibited discussion during the decision-making process.
The exemption reflects the privilege of the government in its litigation against revealing those internal working papers in which opinions are expressed and policies formulated and recommended.
Factual material does not come within the purview of the exception unless it is inextricably intertwined with the policymaking process.
The Report is a detailed statistical study pertaining to the sources of examination and the results of the examination of income tax returns.
It does not relate solely to internal personnel functions,
such as "employee use of the employer's plant and equipment, and the amount of time in each working day which is to be devoted to the employer's business and such activity",
and it does not cover "rules as to personnel's use of parking facilities or regulation of lunch hours, statements of policy as to sick leave, and the like."
It is entirely factual and it is not "inextricably intertwined with the policy-making process."
The Manual guides agents in negotiating with the public and promotes uniformity by detailing information and instructions pertaining to the processing and technical aspects involved in the drafting, processing, reviewing, and signing of closing agreements authorized by Int.Rev.Code of 1954, § 7121.
Clearly, this is a manual which effects members of the public and is not solely related to internal personnel functions of the IRS. Although the manual may not have been heretofore disclosed in its entirety in any proceeding, the government concedes that various portions thereof have been produced voluntarily or pursuant to court order in various legal actions.
Furthermore, the court can envision a number of circumstances in which the Manual would be made available in a discovery proceeding pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Ultimately the disclosure of either document rests on an equitable determination of whether the benefits to the public of disclosure outweigh the effects of nondisclosure. The legislative history of the Freedom of Information Act establishes that disclosure was to be the rule rather than the exception.
The legislative hearings demonstrate the propensity of governmental agencies to shield their activities and procedures from public scrutiny.
The court has carefully examined the documents in question and applied the standard set forth in General Services Administration v. Benson.
The government has failed to sustain its burden of establishing exemption. It is my view that the prejudice to the government from disclosure of the documents is outweighed by the public's right to know.
The government's motions are ...