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Posted Date: September 21, 2011
Last Updated: October 19, 2011

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Vaughn Index


A Vaughn Index is a document that agencies prepare in FOIA litigation to justify each withholding of information under a FOIA exemption. The term arose from a case captioned Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974), in which the court required such an index to determine the validity of the agency’s withholdings in the case. Sometimes such an index can be useful in a non-litigation setting, though the Vaughn ruling does not require that agencies prepare an itemized index of withheld documents, in the context of the administrative process. A requester whose FOIA request is pending in the administrative stage of processing, is not entitled to a Vaughn index.

A Vaughn Index must: (1) identify each document withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption." Citizens Comm'n on Human Rights v. FDA, 45 F.3d 1325, 1326 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995).