The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge
GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT;
DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DISCOVERY
This case comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary
judgment and the plaintiffs motion for discovery. Plaintiff Gennifer
Flowers brings suit against the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS" or "the
defendant") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"),
5 U.S.C. § 552, alleging that the IRS unlawfully refused to disclose
tax documents requested by the plaintiff. The defendant moves for summary
judgment, contending that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction
over the plaintiff's initial request and that the IRS fully complied with
the plaintiff's perfected 2003 request. In response, the plaintiff moves
for discovery. Because the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative
remedies with regard to her initial request, the court may not review
that request. As for the plaintiff's perfected request, because the
defendant has demonstrated that its searches were reasonably calculated
to uncover responsive documents, and because the plaintiff may not use
FOIA discovery to conduct an investigation into the defendant's
motivations, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment
and denies the plaintiff's motion for discovery.
On June 27, 2000, the plaintiff, a resident of Nevada, sent a letter to
the director of the IRS Office of Disclosure requesting "[a]ny and all
documents, including but not limited to files, that refer or relate in
any way to Gennifer Flowers" pursuant to FOIA. Def.'s Statement of
Undisputed Material Facts ("Def.'s Statement") ¶¶ 2-3; Compl. ¶ 5
& Ex. 1. In her letter, the plaintiff indicated that "the term
`document' is used in its broadest sense" and requested that the IRS send
all responsive documents and any correspondence to her attorney at
Judicial Watch, Inc. Def.'s Statement ¶¶ 3-4; Compl. Ex. 1.
On August 3, 2000, the IRS responded to the plaintiff's request via a
letter advising her that "[i]n its present format, your letter meets some
but not all of the requirements which constitute a valid [FOIA] request."
Def.'s Statement ¶ 5; Summerlin Decl. Ex. 2. The IRS specified
several shortcomings in the plaintiff's request. Def.'s Statement ¶¶
6, 9; Summerlin Decl. Ex. 2. First, the IRS noted that the plaintiff's
request failed to include a separate written authorization, signed and
dated by the plaintiff, indicating her social security number, the
identity of the person to whom disclosure was to be made, the type of
information to be disclosed, and the taxable years covered by the
information.*fn2 Id. Second, the IRS noted that because IRS district
offices rather than the National Office maintain taxpayer
files, the plaintiff should direct her request to the service center or
district office associated with the particular return. Id. The IRS
provided a telephone number for the plaintiff to call for assistance in
office to which she should address her request. Id. Third, the IRS
described the plaintiff's request as "too broad to meet the FOIA
requirement to adequately describe the records sought," and asked her to
provide additional guidance on the information requested, the IRS function
that might have responsive documents, the types of issues involved, and
the time frame on which the IRS should focus its search. Id. Fourth, the
IRS indicated that the plaintiff must fulfill the proof-of-identity
requirement and could do so via notarized statement or sworn statement.
Id. Finally, the IRS noted that the plaintiff must provide "a firm
commitment to pay the fees for search and duplication" and an attestation
regarding the applicable fee category. Id. The IRS closed by stating that
it would keep the plaintiff's request open for 30 days to allow the
plaintiff to perfect it, and provided a phone number and website for the
plaintiff in case she had questions. Def.'s Statement ¶ 7; Summerlin
Decl. Ex. 2.
The plaintiff did not perfect her request or otherwise respond to the
IRS letter. Def.'s Statement ¶ 8. Instead, eight months after
receiving the IRS letter, the plaintiff filed suit in this court. In her
complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the IRS subjected her to
retaliatory audits and other actions during the Clinton Administration
from 1993 to 2001. Compl. ¶ 6. She seeks a declaration that the IRS'
refusal to disclose the requested documents is unlawful, an order
directing the IRS to make these documents available to the plaintiff, and
a fee waiver. Id. at 2.
At the initial status conference, the court directed the parties to
certify that they had met in an effort to resolve the procedural
difficulties with the plaintiff's request, and scheduled a second status
conference for January 16, 2003. Def.'s Statement ¶ 10. The parties
met on December 27, 2002. Id. Subsequently, on January 10, 2003,
the plaintiff submitted a perfected request seeking disclosure of five
categories of documents dating back to 1992 from four IRS offices.
Id. ¶¶ 10-11; Deamon Decl. Ex. 1.
The plaintiff's 2001 complaint and 2003 perfected request resulted in
separate but overlapping IRS actions. First, in June 2001, after the
plaintiff filed her complaint, the IRS general counsel directed the IRS
Dallas disclosure office to identify and locate any records pertaining to
the plaintiff. Def.'s Statement ¶ 18; Deamon Decl. ¶¶ 9-10, 12.
The Dallas disclosure office used its Integrated Data Retrieval System
("IDRS") to produce transcripts pertaining to the plaintiff's account.
Deamon Decl. ¶ 13. Second, in January 2003, the IRS National Office
searched the IRS national headquarters*fn3 for responsive documents,
while the Dallas disclosure office again used IDRS to search for
documents responsive to the plaintiff's perfected request. Id. ¶¶ 5,
8; Def.'s Statement ¶¶ 13-15, 24-27; Baker Decl. ¶¶ 5-6; Williams
Decl. ¶¶ 2-4; Cincotta Decl. ¶¶ 2, 5, 8-10.
The search of IRS national headquarters produced only a copy of the
plaintiff's perfected request. Def.'s Statement ¶¶ 26-27; Cincotta
Decl. ¶ 5. The search by the Dallas disclosure office produced IDRS
transcripts revealing that during the specified time period, the IRS had
conducted or contemplated audit activity on the plaintiff's tax returns
twice once on her 1990 return and once on her 1992 return. Def.'s
Statement ¶¶ 13-15; Deamon Decl. ¶¶ 5, 8. With regard to the
plaintiff's 1990 return, the transcripts indicated that the computer at
the IRS Austin service center randomly selected the plaintiff's 1990
return for audit in 1992, but the IRS decided not to conduct an audit
after reviewing the return. Def.'s Statement ¶ 14; Deamon Decl. ¶
6. Because the IRS did not conduct an audit, the IRS did not create an
examination file for the plaintiff's 1990 return. Id. As for the
1992 return, the transcripts showed that the IRS selected the plaintiff's
1992 return for audit in 1993 based on an "information item"
information either generated within the IRS or supplied by an external
source rather than random selection.*fn4 Deamon Decl. ¶ 7.
In an effort to retrieve the examination file associated with the
plaintiff's 1993 audit, the Dallas disclosure office traced the file via
document locator number to the IRS Austin service center. Id. ¶ 14;
Def.'s Statement ¶ 18. In June 2001, the Dallas disclosure office
asked the Austin service center to retrieve the file. Id. The Austin
service center reported that because the file was more than eight years
old, the center had sent the file to the National Archives and Records
Administration's ("NARA") federal records center ("FRC") in Fort Worth
for long-term storage. Def.'s Statement ¶ 19; Deamon Decl. ¶¶
15, 18. The Austin service center therefore asked the Fort Worth FRC to
search for the file, but the FRC indicated that the block of NARA records
containing the plaintiff's file was missing. Id. In July 2001, the Dallas
disclosure office reported back to the IRS general counsel with this
information. Deamon Decl. ¶ 18. At the same time, the Dallas
disclosure office told the general counsel that because IRS
document-retention schedules for examination files require the files'
destruction seven years after closing, the plaintiff's file would have
been eligible for destruction as of June 2001. Id. ¶ 19 & Ex.
In May 2002, the IRS general counsel again contacted the Dallas
disclosure office, this time asking it to determine the exact date of the
file's destruction. Id. ¶ 20. The Dallas disclosure office
subsequently asked the Fort Worth FRC to go back and conduct a special
search for the plaintiff's file. Id. ¶¶ 20-21; Def.'s Statement
¶20. This time the Fort Worth FRC reported that it had shipped the
block of records in question to the FRC in Suitland, Maryland. Id. In
turn, the Suitland FRC informed the Dallas disclosure office that NARA
had destroyed the
plaintiff's file on August 21, 2001. Def.'s Statement ¶¶ 20-21;
Deamon Decl. ¶¶ 21-22 & Ex. 4.
Given the destruction of the plaintiff's file, the IRS could not
produce the file or any documents placed in the file that may have
referred to the information item prompting the plaintiff's 1993 audit.
Def.'s Statement ¶¶ 21-22; Deamon Decl. ¶¶ 22. In an effort to
locate any other records pertaining to the information item, the Dallas
disclosure office asked the Austin service center, which maintains
records of persons claiming rewards for providing the IRS with
information about other taxpayers, to check for reward claims relating to
the plaintiff. Def.'s Statement ¶ 22; Deamon Decl. ¶ 23. The
Austin service center reported that it had no records of any such claim.
Id. Accordingly, the only documents the IRS provided to the plaintiff in
response to her perfected request were the IDRS transcripts. Def.'s
Statement ¶ 23; Deamon Decl. ¶ 24.
In March 2003, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment
contending that the court lacks jurisdiction over the plaintiff's initial
request and that the defendant fully complied with its obligations
regarding the plaintiff's perfected request. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
("Def.'s Mot.") at 5-15. In response, the plaintiff filed a three-page
opposition contending that summary judgment is inappropriate and
requesting discovery regarding the defendant's search for documents and
"why Plaintiff's administrative file was ...