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City of Chicago v. United States Dep't of Treasury

April 25, 2002

CITY OF CHICAGO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY, BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 00 C 3417--George W. Lindberg, Judge.

Before Bauer, Rovner and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

As amended July 25, 2002. The petition for rehearing is DENIED. See end of opinion for corrections.

CITY OF CHICAGO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY, BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND FIREARMS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 00 C 3417--George W. Lindberg, Judge.

Before Bauer, Rovner and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

 Argued January 16, 2002

The City of Chicago (City) brought an action under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. sec. 552, against the United States Department of Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), seeking certain records maintained by ATF regarding the multiple sales of handguns and the tracing of firearms involved in crimes. Both parties moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether certain FOIA exemptions protected some of the requested data from disclosure. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City and held that none of the FOIA exemptions permit ATF to withhold any of the requested records. ATF appealed this decision. For the following reasons, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

On November 12, 1998, the City filed a civil suit against certain manufacturers, distributors and dealers of firearms in Illinois state court. The suit charges those defendants with creating and maintaining a public nuisance in the city by intentionally marketing firearms to city residents and others likely to use or possess the weapons in the city, where essentially possession of any firearm except long-barrel rifles and shotguns is illegal. The suit complains that the defendants' conduct undermines the City's ability to enforce its gun control ordinances and the City's theory of liability rests in part on the defendants' distribution practices. The City seeks injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for the costs that the City incurs as a result of the presence of illegal guns in Chicago.

In furtherance of the City's state court litigation and in order to gain information about local and nationwide firearm distribution patterns, the City sought certain records from ATF. ATF is a criminal and regulatory enforcement agency within the Department of Treasury and is responsible for, among other things, enforcing federal firearms laws, including the Gun Control Act. Under this Act, firearms manufacturers, importers, dealers or collectors are required to keep records of firearms acquisition and disposition and make such records available to ATF under certain circumstances. These records must contain the name, address, date and place of birth, height, weight and race of any firearm transferee without a firearm license. The records also identify the transferred firearm by manufacturer, model and serial number.

ATF maintains these records in comprehensive databases. The City sought information from two particular ATF databases: the Trace Database and the Multiple Sales Database. The Trace Database consists of information compiled when a law enforcement agency contacts ATF and requests that a trace be conducted on a weapon that the law enforcement agency recovered in connection with a crime. ATF then uses the serial number on the weapon to determine its manufacturer. ATF contacts the manufacturer to determine to which dealer or distributor the weapon was sold. The tracing then continues down the line until ATF discovers the name of the individual consumer who purchased the gun. This information is then relayed back to the law enforcement agency that made the initial inquiry, and ATF inputs this data into the Trace Database.

The Multiple Sales Database is compiled of information submitted to ATF by firearm dealers. Pursuant to the mandates of the Gun Control Act, when a non-licensed individual purchases more than one gun from the same dealer within a five day period, the dealer is required to inform ATF. 18 U.S.C. sec. ...


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