MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DISCOVERY
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge
This case comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff's 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 subjectmatter 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 determining the 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 proofof-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" – defined as 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. 2.
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 destroyed." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. The court now addresses the defendant's motion for summary judgment and the plaintiff's motion for discovery.
A. Legal Standard for Summary ...