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JIMENEZ v. FBI

July 23, 1996

Frank M. Jimenez, Plaintiff,
v.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

 This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment and on a motion for stay of proceedings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Plaintiff brings suit under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 [hereinafter FOIA]. Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se in this matter, seeks all records pertaining to himself from the following defendants: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Prisons (BOP), U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF), Executive Office of the United States Attorney (EOUSA), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (Criminal Division), and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). *fn1"

 BACKGROUND

 On April 8, 1995, plaintiff submitted requests to all defendants for documents under the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552. Specifically, plaintiff requested all records "in any way connected to, related to or even remotely in reference to [his] name." (Jimenez Aff., pp. 3-4). The USPS, ATF, and Criminal Division claim that they have conducted a legally sufficient search which has not yielded any documents responsive to plaintiff's request. The DEA, BOP, USMS, and EOUSA assert that they have released all documents responsive to plaintiffs request, with the exception of those documents which are subject to FOIA and Privacy Act exemptions. The FBI claims that "exceptional circumstances" exist which justify a four-year delay to comply with plaintiff's FOIA request, and consequently requests a stay of proceedings. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment against remaining defendants, as well as a one-page response to the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

 SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

 Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings are insufficient to deny summary judgment; rather the adverse party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e).

 Summary judgment is available to the defendant in a FOIA case when it proves that it has fully discharged its obligations under the FOIA, construing the underlying facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment. Miller v. United States Dep't of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1382 (8th Cir. 1985) (citing Weisberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 227 U.S. App. D.C. 253, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1984), reh'g denied, 246 U.S. App. D.C. 175, 763 F.2d 1436 (1985)). The adequacy of the agency's search is judged by a reasonableness standard, where the agency must prove that it made a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records using methods reasonably calculated to produce the information requested. Oglesby v. Dep't of the Army, 287 U.S. App. D.C. 126, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990). This reasonableness standard does not require the agency to examine in detail every document maintained by the agency. See id. The issue in a FOIA case is not whether the agencies' searches uncovered responsive documents, but rather whether the searches were reasonable. Fitzgibbon v. United States Secret Serv., 747 F. Supp. 51, 54 (D.D.C. 1990) (citing Meeropol v. Meese, 252 U.S. App. D.C. 381, 790 F.2d 942, 952-3 (D.C. Cir. 1986)).

 ANALYSIS AND DECISION

 I. Plaintiff's Claims Against the USPS, ATF, & Criminal Division

 The first question this Court must resolve is whether the searches performed by the USPS, ATF, and Criminal Division were adequate. The FOIA requires defendants to "conduct a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Weisberg, 705 F.2d at 1485. If the Government intends to rely on affidavits or declarations to support its claim that the search was adequate, such statements must be "relatively detailed, non-conclusory, and... submitted in good faith." Id. A search is not rendered inadequate under this reasonableness standard merely because it fails to discover all responsive documents. Upon reviewing the affidavits submitted by the USPS, ATF, and Criminal Division, this Court is persuaded that these defendants complied with the reasonableness standard.

 Plaintiff, by letters dated April 8, 1995, and May 19, 1995, requested all records concerning himself regarding mail he received in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois *fn2" (Bauman Decl. P 7.) Henry J. Bauman, Counsel for the Postal Inspection Service at the Headquarters of the Inspection Service in Washington, D.C. was responsible for conducting the search. In his declaration, Bauman outlines the exhaustive but unfruitful efforts of the USPS in searching the mail cover records at the Inspection Service Headquarters, and the USPS's Chicago Division. Id. at P 11. Because the Chicago Division is the field office that has jurisdiction over the geographical locations specified in the plaintiff's request, Id. at P 13, it is reasonable to expect that any existing responsive records would be located in that office. The court concludes that the USPS's search was "reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents."

 B. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms

 Plaintiff, by letter dated April 8, 1995, requested all ATF records concerning himself. (Pritchett Decl. P 4.) The ATF responded to plaintiffs request by searching its "primary, law enforcement computer records system, which indexes all ATF law enforcement records, including those records located in regional offices." Id. at P 6. This search did not yield any responsive records because the ATF was not involved in the investigation or prosecution of the plaintiff. Id. at P 8. The ATF's search was comprehensive and clearly was "reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents."

 C. Office of Enforcement Operations of the Criminal Division of the US. Dep't of Justice

 Plaintiff by letter dated April 8, 1995, requested all records concerning himself from the Criminal Division. The Criminal Division responded by asking the plaintiff to specify the system of records to be searched. (Williams Decl. at P 6.) After searching those systems specified by plaintiff for references to plaintiff's name, the Criminal Division failed to recover any records. Id. at P 9. This Court finds that the search was consistent with the reasonableness standard.

 Thus, based on the unopposed affidavits of the defendants, USPS, ATF, and Criminal Division, this Court finds that their searches were "reasonably calculated to uncover" all documents relevant to the plaintiff's request. Accordingly, the Court will grant the motions for summary judgment by defendants, USPS, ATF, and the Criminal Division.

 II. Plaintiff's Claims Against the DEA, BOP, USMS, and EOUSA

 Defendants DEA, BOP, USMS, and EOUSA responded to plaintiffs FOIA request by producing all documents except those which defendants allege fall under the FOIA's statutory exemptions outlined in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). Plaintiff claims that defendants arbitrarily and capriciously withheld information, and have not met their burden of proof that the withheld documents fall under the specified exemptions. See Vaughn v. United States, 936 F.2d 862, 866 (6th Cir. 1991) ("The burden is on the agency to demonstrate, and not on the requester to disprove, that the material sought may be withheld due to an exemption. "); see also Anderson v. Dep't ...


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