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Alexander v. F.B.I.

May 3, 2000

CARA LESLIE ALEXANDER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion [826] to Compel Further Responses From the Executive Office of the President to Plaintiffs' Fifth Set of Requests for the Production of Documents. 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.

I. Background

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 the plaintiffs' fifth request for the production of documents served on the Executive Office of the President ("EOP") on May 13, 1999. This request was as follows:

[A]ll documents, including but not limited to listings of telephone records, facsimile logs, electronic mail, and diskettes, or other recordings, which refer or relate in any way to the answers to the interrogatories served [on the EOP] or which in any way contain information relevant to . . . these interrogatories. These interrogatories are . . . Plaintiffs' First Set of Interrogatories to the [EOP] Pursuant to Court Order of April 13, 1998, and Plaintiffs' Second [sic] *fn1 Set of Interrogatories to the EOP. See Plaintiffs' Fifth Document Request at 7 (emphasis added).

The EOP served its responses and produced documents on July 16, 1999. The only documents produced by the EOP, however, were those upon which the EOP relied when answering the interrogatories. EOP Opposition at 2. The EOP objected to the plaintiffs' request for documents "relating or referring" to their answers to interrogatories as vague and overbroad.

In their motion to compel, the plaintiffs argue that "it is highly unlikely" that the EOP has produced all documents it relied on when answering the first and second set of interrogatories. Plaintiffs further argue that they are entitled to not only those documents the EOP relied upon, but also any documents that refer or relate in any way to the EOP's interrogatory answers. Accordingly, the plaintiffs request that the court compel the production of all documents relating or referring to the EOP's answers to the interrogatories, as well as those documents relied upon, that have not previously been produced. Furthermore, the plaintiffs request that, for any documents withheld based on privilege, the EOP be compelled to produce a privilege log establishing the bases for their claims.

II. Analysis

In general, "[p]arties 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)(1). Federal Rule 34, which governs requests for the production of documents during discovery, states that such requests "shall set forth, either by individual item or by category, the items to be inspected, and describe each with reasonable particularity." FED. R. CIV P. 34(b).

The EOP argues that plaintiffs' request for all documents that "refer or relate to," "or in any way contain information relevant to" the EOP's interrogatory answers, is vague and overbroad. The EOP further argues that the request fails to the describe the documents requested with reasonable particularity, as required by Federal Rule 34, because it forces the EOP to guess what the plaintiffs would deem relevant.

The court agrees with the EOP's argument to the extent that plaintiffs request all documents that "in any way contain information relevant to" the EOP's interrogatory answers. The court finds this request to be vague and overly broad, as it would require the EOP to determine what other information the plaintiffs would consider to be relevant to that information already supplied by the EOP in their interrogatory answers. See Alexander v. FBI, 186 F.R.D. 21, 36 (D.D.C. 1998) ("[I]t is not the role of the witness to define the scope of a document request.")

The EOP also objects to the plaintiffs' request for those documents that "refer or relate to" the EOP's interrogatory answers as impermissibly vague and overbroad. In support of its argument, the EOP cites this court's prior ruling that plaintiffs' request for all documents related to "Filegate" or this case in general was impermissibly vague and overbroad. See id. at 35. In that ruling, however, it was not the phrase "all documents or things which refer or relate to" that the court found to be overly broad and vague. In fact, the court expressly approved of another request which included such a phrase. See id. (stating that plaintiffs' request for records "relating to" communications with Terry Lenzner concerning access to and disclosure of FBI files of Reagan and Bush appointees "could not be more specific.") Rather it was the subject of the request - "this case or Filegate in general" - that the court found to be vague and overly broad. Id.

The court finds the subject of the present request, however, to be clear and specific. This request does not require the EOP to determine what particular issues the plaintiffs think relevant and important. Those issues are clearly laid out in the plaintiffs' request for interrogatories. Therefore, the EOP need only to look at the information contained within their interrogatory answers to determine what documents need to be produced.

As to the EOP's claim that the plaintiffs' request is overbroad, this court has already ruled on the relevance of the underlying interrogatories. See Alexander v. FBI, Civ. No. 96-2123, Memorandum and Order (D.D.C. March 29, 2000)(re: First Set of Interrogatories); Alexander v. FBI, Civ. No. 96-2123, Memorandum and Order (D.D.C. March 29, 2000)(re: Third Set of Interrogatories). Clearly, the EOP need not provide documents relating to those questions that the court found irrelevant and undiscoverable. For those remaining questions, however, ...


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