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JUDICIAL WATCH INC. v. FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

March 21, 2002

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., PLAINTIFF,
V.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION
Implicating constitutional issues courts rarely addressed only a decade ago, this case involves technology that would allegedly allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI" or "the defendant") to "wiretap" the Internet. Judicial Watch, Inc. ("the plaintiff") brings this action against the FBI*fn1 for an alleged failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. The alleged violation stems from the defendant's refusal to respond to the plaintiff's FOIA request for documents related to the FBI's automated system called "Carnivore." The plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under FOIA. The defendant moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) based on the plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and thus for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss.
II. BACKGROUND
On July 15, 2000, Judicial Watch sent a FOIA request via fax and certified mail to the defendant requesting certain records related to Carnivore. See Compl. at 2 & Ex. 1; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Mot. to Dismiss") at 1 & Ex. 1. Known as a "packet sniffer," Carnivore analyzes data flowing through computer networks, allowing law enforcement officials to monitor e-mail messages of criminal suspects. See Compl. Ex. 1. Civil liberties groups are interested in Carnivore because of the potential Fourth Amendment search and seizure concerns the system allegedly raises. See id. Judicial Watch claims that Carnivore allows the FBI to "wiretap" the Internet. See Compl. at 2. The FBI responded in a letter to Judicial Watch dated July 21, 2000, acknowledging receipt of Judicial Watch's request and assigning it a Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts ("FOIPA") number. See Mot. to Dismiss at 1, Ex. 1; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 3. The July 21, 2000 letter advised Judicial Watch that the defendant had been experiencing processing delays and would process its request as soon as possible. See Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 1.

In a letter to Judicial Watch dated August 17, 2000, the defendant stated that approximately 3,000 pages*fn2 of material responsive to Judicial Watch's FOIA request had been located and that interim releases of information would begin in about 45 days. See Mot. to Dismiss at 1, Ex. 1; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4. The August 17, 2000 letter denied Judicial Watch's request for a fee waiver*fn3 and requested that Judicial Watch indicate in writing its willingness to pay the initial processing fee of approximately $290.00. See Mot. to Dismiss at 1-2, Ex. 1; Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. The August 17, 2000 letter did not advise Judicial Watch of its right to appeal the decision to the head of the agency pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i). See Pl.'s Opp'n at 4.

On October 2, 2000, the defendant sent Judicial Watch 565 pages of material responsive to its FOIA request.*fn4 See Mot. to Dismiss at 2, Ex. 1. Judicial Watch claims that it never received these documents. See Compl. at 2; Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. Judicial Watch did not pay the $46.50 duplication fee requested in the August 17, 2000 letter, nor did it provide a written willingness to pay for the remaining pages. See Mot. to Dismiss at 2.

On February 1, 2001, Judicial Watch filed its complaint in this court. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on March 19, 2001 pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). On April 2, 2001, Judicial Watch filed an opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss, in which it agreed to pay the $290.00 duplication fee if the defendant produced the rest of the documents without delay. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5.
For the reasons that follow, the court agrees with the defendant that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff has failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. Accordingly, the court will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss.
III. ANALYSIS
A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss
On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction. See District of Columbia Retirement Bd. v. United States, 657 F. Supp. 428, 431 (D.D.C. 1987). In evaluating whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, the court must accept all the complaint's well-pled factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overturned on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). The court need not, however, accept inferences unsupported by the facts alleged or legal conclusions that are cast as factual allegations. See, e.g., Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990).
Moreover, the court need not limit itself to the allegations of the complaint. See Hohri v. United States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds by 482 U.S. 64 (1987). Rather, the court may consider such materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate to determine whether it has jurisdiction in the case. See Herbert v. National Acad. of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
For a complaint to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, it need only provide a short and plain statement of the claim and the grounds on which it rests. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests not whether the plaintiff will prevail on the merits, but instead whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236. The plaintiff need not plead the elements of a prima-facie case in the complaint. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1114 (D.C. Cir. 2000); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 2002 WL 261807 (U.S., Feb. 26, 2002) (holding that a plaintiff in an employment-discrimination case need not establish her prima-facie case in the complaint). Thus, the court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); ...

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