Clinic Files FOIA Litigation On Behalf of PhD Student

On October 9, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) on behalf of client Martin Pfeiffer. Mr. Pfeiffer is a PhD student at the University of New Mexico whose work focuses on nuclear semiotics, information management, secrecy, and history. In January 2020, the Clinic assisted him in filing FOIA requests with the National Nuclear Security Administration (“NNSA”). Relying on Mr. Pfeiffer’s active online presence and long history of publications, talks, and podcast appearances, the Clinic asked that he be classified as an educational or news media requester for fee purposes.

The NNSA instead classified Mr. Pfeiffer as a commercial requester based on the fact that he operated a Patreon account. However, the decision failed to consider the relevant case law, which provides that an educational or news media requester’s incidental financial benefit from the use of records does not preclude them from seeking reduced fees under the FOIA. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Department of Energy’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, the Clinic teamed up with FOIA legend David Sobel to file a complaint in United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The Clinic and co-counsel are now awaiting the government’s response.

This litigation represents the culmination of over a year of clinical work by Fall 2019 students James Holloway and Tea Skela, Winter 2020 student Keir Negron, Spring 2020 student Howard Duan, Summer 2020 intern Priyanka Krishnamurthy, and Fall 2020 students Chinyere Amanze and David Dalla Vedova, supervised by Clinical Instructor Mason Kortz.

Photo:  Jupiter, Mr. Pfeiffer’s cat and unofficial Cyberlaw Clinic FOIA mascot

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