The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth United States District Court
This matter comes before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion [828 & 829] to Compel Answers to Plaintiffs' Third Set of Interrogatories to the Executive Office of the President. Upon consideration of this motion, and the opposition and reply thereto, the court will GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART plaintiffs' motion, as discussed and ordered below.
The underlying allegations in this case arise from what has become popularly known as "Filegate." Plaintiffs allege that their privacy interests were violated when the FBI improperly handed over to the White House hundreds of FBI files of former political appointees and government employees from the Reagan and Bush Administrations.
This particular dispute revolves around interrogatories plaintiffs served on the Executive Office of the President ("EOP") on May 13, 1999. The EOP filed their responses to these interrogatories, including several objections, on July 16, 1999. On July 27, 1999, the plaintiffs then filed a motion to compel the EOP to respond fully and without objection. After this motion was filed and discussions were held between the parties, the EOP provided verified supplemental responses to many of the interrogatories, which rendered several of the plaintiffs' arguments moot. Plaintiffs, however, still seek in their reply to compel additional information as to some of their interrogatories (interrogatories 1, 6, 9, 13, 14 and 18).
1. Interrogatory Number 1
Interrogatory 1 seeks seven discrete pieces of information, requested in distinct subparts, about the FBI files of each individual on a list of close to 1,000 names, with the exception of political appointees to the Clinton Administration. *fn1
Plaintiffs seek to compel further information in response to two of the subparts.
Subpart (a) of this interrogatory asks for "all reasons why the FBI file was procured." Pl. Int. 1(a), p.3. In its response, the EOP states that it "cannot warrant the complete accuracy of the information provided." EOP Resp. Int. 1(a), p.8. The EOP further states that it compiled the information from certain EOP records, which, while "the best EOP data available, [are] not always accurate." Id.
Rule 33(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that "[e]ach interrogatory shall be answered separately and fully in writing and under oath." The EOP's duty, as the responding party is to "provide true, explicit, responsive, complete and candid answers to the interrogatories." Chubb Integrated Systems Ltd. v. Nat'l Bank of Washington, 103 F.R.D. 52, 61 (D.D.C. 1984). These answers must be signed by the person who made them and who can attest to their accuracy. See FED. R. CIV. P. 33(b)(2); Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Cos., 62 F.3d 1469, 1482 (D.C. Cir. 1995)(holding that if the party to a suit is an organization, an officer or agent may sign the interrogatories but that person must have a basis for stating that the responses are accurate). In this case, however, the EOP has stated that it cannot warrant the complete accuracy of its response.
At least one court has indicated that a responding party may not be required to admit to the accuracy of information, if that information was received solely from third persons and the party states in his answers the source of the information. See Riley v. United Air Lines, Inc., 32 F.R.D. 230, 233 (S.D.N.Y. 1962). The information on which the EOP bases its response, however, by its own admission, did not come from third persons outside of its control. Rather this information was obtained from its own documents, which are maintained within its own control. Common sense dictates that a party is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of its own records. Accordingly, the EOP has a duty to verify the accuracy of its answers. If the EOP cannot warrant the complete accuracy of its own records, it must state under oath that it took all steps necessary to ensure the accuracy of the information provided to the best of its ability and clearly explain the steps that it took to do so. See 8A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE §2174 (2d ed. 1994)("The burden is on the party objecting to interrogatories to show that the information sought is not readily available to it.")
Plaintiffs next contest the EOP's response to subpart (f) of Interrogatory 1, which asks for the names of the persons who had access to the FBI files. The EOP responded by naming broad categories of people who had access, including the OPS and "members of the White House Counsel's Office, on a need to know basis." EOP Resp. Int. 1(f), p.14. The EOP objects to this question on the basis of undue burden to the extent that it would require the EOP to ascertain each individual who had access to the files. See id. at 15.
"Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action." FED. R. CIV. P. 26 (b). The information sought by the plaintiffs is clearly relevant, if not crucial, to the pending action. As noted above, once relevance has been established, "[t]he burden is on the party objecting to interrogatories to show that the information sought is not readily available to it." 8A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2174 (2d ed. 1994); see also Ellsworth Assocs., Inc. ...