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Mendoza v. Drug Enforcement Administration

December 20, 2006

JOE LOUIE MENDOZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff filed this pro se action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, appealing the disposition of his records requests by the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). Plaintiff also asserts a claim under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. For the following reasons, the Court will grant defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 28, 2002, plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to DEA's South Central Laboratory in Dallas, Texas for all records concerning himself, including (1) all reports of the chemical composition of any and all substances that were obtained by DEA for analysis; (2) investigatory reports; (3) reports of evidentiary and/or scientific findings; and (4) any and all information, data, and reports not otherwise exempted from disclosure by statute. (Compl. at 2; Decl. of William C. Little, Jr. ¶ 11.) DEA's search yielded 418 pages of responsive records. (Id. ¶ 43.) DEA released 31 pages of these records to plaintiff, including portions of 29 pages and 2 pages in their entirety. (Id.)The agency withheld 387 pages in their entirety pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 2, 3, 7(A), 7(C), 7(D), and 7(F), and Privacy Act Exemption (j)(2). (Id.)

On May 22, 2002, plaintiff appealed DEA's determination to the Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP"). (Id. ¶ 17.) OIP informed plaintiff on August 10, 2004, that it would release two pages withheld by DEA, but it would otherwise affirm DEA's withholding of records under the FOIA exemptions. (Id. ¶ 19.) The two additional pages were sent to plaintiff on September 7, 2004. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Plaintiff submitted another FOIA request on July 24, 2002, to the DEA's Fayetteville, Arkansas office. (Id. ¶ 21; Compl. at 2.) Plaintiff requested arrest and search warrants and accompanying affidavits, affidavits for a wiretap, a copy of the court order authorizing the wiretap, an investigative report prepared by a DEA agent regarding a co-defendant, a report of an interview with Crystal Mendoza, any statements of persons arrested or interviewed in relation to plaintiff's criminal case or related offenses, investigative reports, evidentiary and scientific findings, and transcripts of all recorded telephone calls. (Decl. of William C. Little, Jr. ¶ 21.) On July 31, 2003, DEA responded to plaintiff's request and stated that some of the requested documents were not in the possession of the DEA or were provided to plaintiff in response to his prior FOIA request. (Id. ¶ 28.) After plaintiff filed this cause of action, DEA released additional records located at the South Central Laboratory. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) On July 3, 2006, DEA sent to plaintiff two pages in their entirety and portions of 21 pages, citing Exemption 7(C). (Id. ¶ 32.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Material facts are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The party opposing a motion for summary judgment, however, "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The non-moving party must do more than simply "show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Moreover, "any factual assertions in the movant's affidavits will be accepted as being true unless [the opposing party] submits his own affidavits or other documentary evidence contradicting the assertion." Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir.1992) (quoting Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982)).

In a FOIA case, the Court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the department or agency in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstratethat the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). An agency must demonstrate that "each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is wholly [or partially] exempt from the Act's inspection requirements." Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978) (citation and quotation omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Adequacy of the Agency Search

To obtain summary judgment on the issue of the adequacy of the search for records under FOIA, an agency must show "viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the requester, that . . . [it] 'has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 552 (D.C.Cir. 1994) (quoting Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C.Cir. 1984)). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail and in a non-conclusory fashion the scope and method of the agency's search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C.Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance with FOIA. Id. at 127. The agency must show that it made a "good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested." Oglesby v. Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C.Cir. 1990). In determining the adequacy of a FOIA search, the Court is guided by principles of reasonableness. Id.

Plaintiff's FOIA requests were for DEA's investigative and laboratory records pertaining to him. (Decl. of William C. Little, Jr. ¶ 33.) According to the declaration provided by DEA, the criminal investigative records responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request were likely to be found in the DEA's Investigative Reporting and Filing System ("IRFS"). (Id. ¶ 34.) The IRFS contains all investigative reports and files compiled for law enforcement purposes. (Id.) The IRFS is accessed through the DEA Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Information System ("NADDIS"). (Id. ¶ 36.) Individuals are indexed and identified in NADDIS by name, social security number, and/or date of ...


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