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JUDICIAL WATCH INC. v. U.S. DEPT. OF JUSTICE

October 2, 2000

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., PLAINTIFF,
V.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennedy, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In this matter, plaintiff Judicial Watch, Inc., a nonprofit public-interest law firm, seeks judicial review of the decisions by defendant, the Department of Justice (DOJ), not to turn over requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),*fn1 not to grant Judicial Watch a fee waiver, and not to classify Judicial Watch as a representative of the news media.

Before the court is DOJ's motion for summary judgment regarding fee issues relative to Judicial Watch's FOIA request including the fee-waiver and fee-categorization determinations. Upon consideration of DOJ's motion, the opposition thereto, and the case record, the court grants the motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Judicial Watch is a nonprofit, public-interest organization that studies, investigates, and exposes government corruption via FOIA requests and other legal remedies. On October 19, 1998, Judicial Watch submitted to DOJ a FOIA request seeking:

all correspondence, memoranda, documents, records, lists of names, applications, diskettes, letters, expense logs, and receipts, calendar or diary logs, facsimile logs, telephone records, tape recordings, notes, electronic mail, and other documents and things, that refer or relate to the following in any way: . . . Senator Orrin Hatch and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).*fn2

In its request, Judicial Watch also requested a fee waiver or, alternatively, argued for reduced fees as a "representative of the news media."

Three components of DOJ responded to plaintiff's FOIA request: the Office of Information and Privacy (OIP), the Civil Division, and the Criminal Division. OIP is the DOJ component responsible for reviewing records within the Offices of Attorney General and Legislative Affairs pursuant to FOIA requests. OIP notified plaintiff that it did not locate any responsive documents, that it had exhausted the requisite two hours of search time,*fn3 and that it could process plaintiff's FOIA request further once plaintiff agreed to pay the fees required by FOIA. Additionally, OIP denied plaintiff's fee-waiver request and plaintiff's request for "representative of the news media" status. In response to plaintiff's appeal, OIP affirmed that no responsive documents were located, that plaintiff would not be granted "representative of the news media" status, and that a fee waiver was not appropriate.

The Criminal Division, another DOJ component, also responded to plaintiff's FOIA request. The Criminal Division notified plaintiff that it had located many potentially responsive documents, but as it had exceeded the initial two hours of search time to which plaintiff was entitled, the search could only continue once plaintiff paid the required fees. Additionally, the Criminal Division denied plaintiff's fee-waiver request.

The Civil Division, the third DOJ component responding to plaintiff's FOIA request, informed plaintiff that it found no responsive documents during the initial two-hour search, and that the search could proceed once plaintiff agreed to pay the required fees. The Civil Division also denied plaintiff's fee-waiver request.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for summary judgment should be granted only if it is shown "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."*fn4 The moving party's "initial responsibility" consists of "informing the [trial] court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."*fn5

If the moving party makes this showing, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually exists.*fn6 To meet its burden, the non-moving party must show that "`the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict'" in its favor.*fn7 Such evidence must consist of more than mere unsupported allegations or denials and must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.*fn8 If the evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative," summary judgment may be granted.*fn9

III. ANALYSIS

Under FOIA, agencies must charge a reasonable fee for searching, duplicating, and reviewing files.*fn10 However, FOIA provides for exceptions which reduce fees for several categories of requesters.*fn11 Additionally, FOIA requires agencies to waive the fee if disclosure of the requested information will be in the public interest.*fn12 At issue in this summary-judgment motion is: 1) whether the DOJ components properly denied plaintiff's request for a fee waiver, and 2) whether plaintiff qualifies for a fee reduction under the "representative of the news media" fee category. From its review of the papers, the court concludes there are no genuine issues of material fact, and proceeds to analyze ...


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