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Ames v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 30, 2017

Harriett A. Ames, Appellant
v.
United States Department of Homeland Security and United States Department of Defense, Appellees

          Argued Date April 20, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:13-cv-00629)

          John F. Karl, Jr. argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was Kristen Grim Hughes.

          Damon Taaffe, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellees.

          With him on the brief was R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

          Patricia K. McBride, Assistant U.S. Attorney, entered an appearance.

          Before: Henderson and Kavanaugh, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle, Senior Circuit Judge.

          Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge

         Harriett Ames was Chief of the Personnel Security Branch in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As Chief of the Personnel Security Branch, Ames reviewed security clearance applications for prospective DHS employees. In 2012, an internal investigation by DHS's Office of Inspector General determined that Ames had granted two security clearances that should have been rejected. The Office of Inspector General also found that Ames had made false statements during the investigation. The Office of Inspector General ultimately prepared a report documenting those conclusions.

         A few months before the Inspector General's report was finished, however, Ames left her employment at DHS. Ames obtained a position in the Personnel Security Division of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an agency in the Department of Defense. For ease of reference, we will refer to Ames's new employer as DOD.

         After learning of Ames's move to another federal agency, the DHS agent who prepared the Inspector General's report (Special Agent K.C. Yi) sent the Inspector General's report to DOD. After reviewing the Inspector General's report and conducting its own review of the matter, DOD fired Ames.

         Ames subsequently sued DHS and DOD under the Privacy Act. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Ames argued that DHS's disclosure of the report to DOD violated the Privacy Act. In a thorough and persuasive opinion, the District Court rejected Ames's argument. We affirm. Like the District Court, we conclude that DHS's disclosure of the Inspector General's report to DOD was permissible under the Privacy Act.

         In 1974, Congress passed and President Ford signed the Privacy Act. See Pub. L. No. 93-579, 88 Stat. 1896 (codified as amended at 5 U.S.C. § 552a). As relevant here, the Privacy Act forbids disclosure by executive and independent agencies of "any record" to "any person, or to another agency, " without the consent of the individual to whom the record pertains. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b).

         The Privacy Act contains some exceptions. As relevant here, the Act allows an agency to make disclosures that constitute a "routine use" of the record. Id. ยง 552a(b)(3). To fit within the confines of the routine use exception to the Privacy Act, an agency's disclosure of a record must be both (i) "for a purpose which is compatible with the purpose for which it was collected" and (ii) ...


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