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AMERICAN CENTENNIAL INS. CO. v. UNITED STATES EEOC

August 17, 1989

AMERICAN CENTENNIAL INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BROTMAN

 Plaintiff, American Centennial Insurance Co. ("American Centennial"), brings this civil action pursuant to subsection (a)(4)(B) of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA" or "Act"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. American Centennial seeks release of all files relating to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") charge number 061-81-0048.

 Presently before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment of plaintiff and defendant. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed.

 I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

 Plaintiff, American Centennial, is one of many insurance carriers which issued policies to Campbell Soup, Inc. ("Campbell"). Defendant, EEOC, is the agency empowered to receive, investigate and, if appropriate, conciliate and litigate charges of discrimination filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e to 2000e-17 ("Title VII"). The EEOC has issued a Title VII violation charge against Campbell alleging sex and race discrimination in its employment practices (charge number 061-81-0048). The EEOC initiated the conciliation process, and in June, 1987, made a claim against Campbell to settle the charges for approximately thirty-two million dollars.

 Campbell has filed an action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Camden County, against the plaintiff and its other insurance carriers seeking defense and indemnification under various insurance policies with respect to the EEOC claim. Plaintiff and the other insurers requested copies of the initial charges, the conciliation agreement and information regarding right to sue letters from the EEOC. The EEOC denied the request and plaintiff appealed. The EEOC subsequently denied the appeal pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(3) and (b)(7)(A). On October 2, 1987, plaintiff filed the present action pursuant to the FOIA to compel the EEOC to produce all files relating to the charge against Campbell. Eighteen other insurance companies, co-defendants in the state court action, have intervened and join in plaintiff's claim.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. The Summary Judgment Standard

 The standard for granting summary judgment is a stringent one, but it is not insurmountable. A court may grant summary judgment only when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact the court must view all doubt in favor of the nonmoving party. Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n.2 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1091, 79 L. Ed. 2d 910, 104 S. Ct. 2144 (1984); Smith v. Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co., 464 F.2d 870, 874 (3d Cir. 1972). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 Recent Supreme Court decisions mandate that "a motion for summary judgment must be granted unless the party opposing the motion can produce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden of proof at trial, could be the basis for a jury finding in that party's favor." J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. Fidelity Bank, 813 F.2d 610, 618 (3d Cir. 1987) (Becker, J., concurring) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505, and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). Moreover, once the moving party has carried its burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Thus, even if the movant's evidence is merely "colorable" or is "not significantly probative," the court may grant summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

 B. The Freedom of Information Act

 The FOIA allows citizens access to government information, thereby ensuring an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society. N.L.R.B. v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242, 57 L. Ed. 2d 159, 98 S. Ct. 2311 (1978). In promulgating the FOIA, however, Congress sought to protect certain valid governmental interests by providing nine categories of exemptions from the disclosure provisions of the Act. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1)-(9). The third exemption of the Act allows an agency to withhold records which are:

 
specifically exempted from disclosure by statute . . ., provided that such statute (A) requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue, or (B) establishes particular criteria for ...

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