Federal FOIA suit filed against Army

Federal FOIA suit filed against Army

Jayson Whitehead v. the United States Department of the Army is now official. More than a year and a half after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the appraisal of Wendell Wood’s land that was sold to the Army in 2006, I have now had to sue in federal court.

In late February 2007, I was wrapping up an article on the Army’s purchase of land next to the existing NGIC from local landowner, Wendell Wood. Wood had sold the 47 acres for $7 million, a figure he claimed was less than half of its appraisal value, and the county Board of Supervisors promised to move 30 nearby acres of his from rural into growth designation.

Yet the actual appraisal figure was never revealed by the Army. The supes did not even know (and still don’t), although Wood hinted that he did. When I contacted the Army official—Dillard Horton of the Corps of Engineers—who had negotiated the sale with Wood, he balked.

We’re taking it all the way to the federal court in an effort to find out the exact value of the 47 acres that developer Wendell Wood sold to the government for the NGIC expansion.

“All I can say is that the appraisal was for more than we paid for the property,” Horton said.

So at my editor’s urging, I filed a FOIA request for the amount on February 26. Two months later, the Army responded with a denial on the basis that the appraisal amount was exempt from disclosure under U.S. code, claiming that “release of the information could cause financial harm by affecting the owner’s ability to negotiate in the future.”

A June 2007 appeal of the ruling has never been answered, despite repeated attempts from my legal counsel (The Rutherford Institute) to get a response. The only recourse was to sue in federal court. On July 2, attorney Steve Rosenfield (acting in a pro bono capacity for Rutherford) filed in the Western District of Virginia, arguing that “the appraisal is not confidential information” and that “disclosure would not impair the government’s ability to obtain information in the future or cause competitive harm to the seller of the property at issue in this case.”

The government will have 60 days from the date on which they receive the lawsuit to file an answer. They will almost certainly respond with a motion to dismiss, that we will then counter.

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