37 CFR 102.6: Time limits and expedited processing

Taken from the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 07.2022, Published February 2023

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102.6    Time limits and expedited processing.

  • (a) In general. The FOIA Officer ordinarily shall respond to requests according to their order of receipt.
  • (b) Initial response and appeal. Subject to paragraph (c)(1) of this section, an initial response shall be made within 20 working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of a request for a record under this part by the proper FOIA Officer identified in accordance with § 102.5(a), and an appeal shall be decided within 20 working days of its receipt by the Office of the General Counsel.
  • (c) Unusual circumstances.
    • (1) In unusual circumstances as specified in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, the FOIA Officer may extend the time limits in paragraph (b) of this section by notifying the requester in writing as soon as practicable of the unusual circumstances and of the date by which processing of the request is expected to be completed. Extensions of time for the initial determination and extensions on appeal may not exceed a total of ten working days, unless the requester agrees to a longer extension, or the FOIA Officer provides the requester with an opportunity either to limit the scope of the request so that it may be processed within the applicable time limit, or to arrange an alternative time frame for processing the request or a modified request.
    • (2) As used in this section, unusual circumstances, means, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to properly process the particular request:
      • (i) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments separate from the office processing the request;
      • (ii) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are the subject of a single request; or
      • (iii) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another Federal agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request.
    • (3) Unusual circumstances do not include a delay that results from a predictable workload of requests, unless USPTO demonstrates reasonable progress in reducing its backlog of pending requests. Refusal to reasonably modify the scope of a request or arrange an alternate time frame may affect a requester’s ability to obtain judicial review.
    • (4) If the FOIA Officer reasonably believes that multiple requests submitted by a requester, or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances, and the requests involve clearly related matters, the FOIA Officer may aggregate them. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters will not be aggregated.
  • (d) Multitrack processing.
    • (1) The FOIA Officer may use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex requests based on the number of pages involved, or some other measure of the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, and whether the request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (e) of this section.
    • (2) The FOIA Officer may provide requesters in a slower track with an opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for faster processing. The FOIA Officer may contact the requester by telephone or by letter, whichever is most efficient in each case.
  • (e) Expedited processing.
    • (1) Requests and appeals shall be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever it is determined they involve:
      • (i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;
      • (ii) The loss of substantial due process rights;
      • (iii) A matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist questions about the Government’s integrity that affect public confidence; or
      • (iv) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.
    • (2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the initial request for records or at any later time. For a prompt determination, a request for expedited processing should be sent to the FOIA Officer.
    • (3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that person’s knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. For example, a requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section, if not a full-time member of the news media, must establish that he or she is a person whose main professional activity or occupation is information dissemination, though it need not be his or her sole occupation. A requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section must also establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the Government activity involved in the request, beyond the public’s right to know about Government activity generally. The formality of certification may be waived as a matter of administrative discretion.
    • (4) Within ten calendar days of receipt of a request for expedited processing, the FOIA Officer will decide whether to grant it and shall notify the requester of the decision. If a request for expedited treatment is granted, the request shall be given priority and processed as soon as practicable. If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision shall be acted on expeditiously.
[Added, 65 FR 52916, Aug. 31, 2000, effective Oct. 2, 2000]