May 25, 2022

Trends: “Dramatic Rise in FOIA Lawsuits Filed by Nonprofit Advocacy Groups”

From The FOIA Project/Syracuse University:

To give some perspective on these trends, in FY 2001, the first year of the Bush administration, nonprofit/advocacy organizations filed 47 cases challenging federal agencies’ FOIA practices. These cases made up one out of every seven (14.2%) federal FOIA suits filed that year. Ten years later the annual number of suits filed by this sector surpassed 100 individual cases. By June 2015, this sector’s 12-month running total had topped 150, and in April of 2017 nonprofit and advocacy organizations’ FOIA filings topped 200 for the first time.


As the FOIA Project reported in its January and May 2017 reports, reporters and news organizations have also recently brought an increasing number of federal FOIA lawsuits. However, the pattern of their increase differed from that documented for the nonprofit and advocacy sector. Nonprofit and advocacy organizations’ lawsuits increased during both the Bush and Obama administrations. In comparison, the number of media suits changed very little during most of this period. Only in the last few years have news media FOIA lawsuits jumped.

The jump in media-filed suits along with the dramatic rise in those filed by nonprofit groups have been key contributors to the overall rise in federal FOIA litigation that has recently occurred.


These latest results emerge from the FOIA Project’s continuing initiative to systematically identify and classify plaintiffs in each federal FOIA lawsuit. Starting with the case-by case records on virtually every FOIA suit now available on, the project team is examining and classifying each of the more than ten thousand individual names of plaintiffs for cases filed in federal district court since the beginning of FY 2001.

Results from the first phase of this project, released last December and updated in May, were published in The News Media List — a comprehensive directory to the more than four hundred individual reporters and news media plaintiffs in federal FOIA cases. In the just completed and even more ambitious second phase, the project team has identified a second set of cases and filers covering those suits brought by nonprofits and advocacy organizations.

The Nonprofit/Advocacy List is a parallel directory that covers over two thousand individual nonprofit organizations that were plaintiffs in federal FOIA cases filed since the beginning of FY 2001.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.