Saturday, May 20, 2017

ASPCA files lawsuit against HUD following denial of fee-waived FOIA request

The ASPCA, with the assistance of Holland & Knight LLP, has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) claiming that the agency's denial of its request for a fee waiver for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning pet ownership restrictions in select public housing units is unlawful.

In its original request, the ASPCA noted that the organization is entitled to receive these documents free of charge under FOIA's public interest provision because the documents would be used to educate the public about HUD policies that potentially prohibit pet ownership by thousands of tenants nationwide.

The ASPCA's suit argues that nonprofit groups will be prevented from using FOIA effectively if government agencies demand thousands of dollars of fees to fulfill each request.

"The federal government has recently shown an increased reluctance to make its records available to the public. As a result, FOIA requests are becoming increasingly important to ensure government transparency and accountability," said Jennifer Chin, Esq., Vice President, ASPCA Legal Advocacy.

"The ASPCA's lawsuit is important to not only maintain our own advocacy and educational efforts, but also to preserve the ability of public-interest organizations to use the FOIA process to gain access to critical government records."

In 2015, the ASPCA submitted a FOIA request 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.

HUD has repeatedly denied the ASPCA's requests for a fee waiver because the ASPCA lacks the "ability to distribute this information to a reasonably broad audience of persons interested in the subject." 

"With more than two million supporters across the country, the ASPCA is one of the nation's largest and best known animal welfare organizations," said Chin. "If the ASPCA is not capable of reaching a wide audience of citizens concerned with animal welfare, it is hard to imagine any organization could meet HUD's FOIA standards."

The ASPCA's extensive research on pet homelessness has found that lack of affordable, pet-friendly housing is a consistent contributor to animal relinquishments, which is why the ASPCA works to educate lawmakers, animal welfare professionals, and the public on the need for housing policies that help keep people and pets together.

The ASPCA Legal Advocacy department focuses on increasing legal protections for animals across the country and shaping stronger animal welfare laws through the judicial system. The ASPCA Government Relations team also helps enact meaningful protections for animals by working with legislators at the local, state and federal levels.

For more information on the ASPCA's support for pet-friendly housing policies, visit here.

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