BuzzFeed Sues CDC and FEMA for Failing to Comply to FOIA Request for Coronavirus-Related Materials

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On March 13th,  BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and three other federal agencies over COVID-19 related records.

On February 12th, BuzzFeed submitted a FOIA request to the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), asking the agencies to produce all emails from their respective directors that mentioned or referred to the Coronavirus, all policy and legal guidance, any and all internal letters and memos, and any and all drafts and final talking points that referred to the virus.

According to the complaint, on February 18th the CDC acknowledged that it had received the request, but that it was “overly broad.” After a bit of back-and-forth, BuzzFeed and the CDC ultimately agreed to limit the timeframe of the request from February 1, 2020 to the present, and to limit the request to the centers’ directors and their immediate aides or deputies.

By the date the lawsuit was filed, however, the CDC hadn’t issued a determination and had yet to produce any records.

FEMA, on the other hand, acknowledged that it received BuzzFeed’s request on February 27th, and granted expedited processing that same day. However, on March 5th, FEMA narrowed the request for records related to the Coronavirus from January 7th, 2020 to February 14th, 2020, and for only 13 specific FEMA executives.

As of the filing date of the lawsuit, FEMA hadn’t issued a determination nor has it released any records.

The suit requests that the court declare that the agencies have violated FOIA, and order them to supply the requested records.