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ASPCA files lawsuit against US Department of HUD after denied FOIA requests

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The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Monday, alleging that the agency’s refusal to waive fees related to a Freedom of Information Act request is unlawful.

According to the ASPCA, in 2015 a FOIA request was submitted seeking information on HUD’s policy of exempting housing authorities participating in the agency’s Moving to Work program from federal laws and regulations permitting pet ownership.

The complaint said a paragraph in the request mentioned the ASPCA is entitled to a fee waiver under a “public interest” provision. The ASPCA said the documents would be used to educate the public about HUD policies that potentially prohibit pet ownership.

The request was denied. Records showed it was denied because the ASPCA “failed to meet its initial burden of identifying the public interest to be served by disclosure of the requested documents.”

The ASPCA appealed the denial, but the appeal was denied in April 2016. HUD said that the information that would be distributed by the ASPCA wouldn’t reach a broad audience and wouldn’t contribute to a larger public understanding, records show.

Court records show that HUD sent the ASPCA a letter estimating that the request would cost $7,862.40, and that the fees must be paid before records could be received.

A second FOIA request filed in July 2016 included six sections about why the ASPCA was entitled to a waiver, records show. The request was denied.

The ASPCA again filed an appeal. Court records show that the ASPCA said obtaining the information from HUD would help “contribute to a greater public understanding of why pets may be prohibited in housing authority properties participating in the MTW demonstration programs.”

HUD responded to the appeal, and noted that it’s up to the media to decide what to report, it can’t be assumed that the press would be interested in reporting the information, and the ASPCA did not prove the information would be distributed to a broad audience.

The response also referenced a case the ASPCA had mentioned in its appeal.

HUD said, “The interested group, low- and moderate- income families impacted by the Moving to Work demonstration, in that case has a greater population than the targeted group, those interested in housing-related pet ownership prohibition,” records show.

Court records show HUD assessed that the ASPCA’s second request would cost $5,662 to process.

In the lawsuit, the ASPCA requested that all fees be waived for obtaining the documents. 

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