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Anderson v. United States Dep't of Justice

March 26, 2007

TOMMIE ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Having considered the motion, plaintiff's opposition, defendant's reply, and the entire record of this case, the Court grants summary judgment for defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

At issue in this case are three requests for information plaintiff submitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. See Compl. at 4. The requests pertain to the activities of the New Orleans Field Division Task Force, which was established in 1994 pursuant to a written agreement between the DEA and the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office. Id., Ex. (State and Local Task Force Agreement).*fn1 The Task Force targeted illicit drug trafficking in the Louisiana Gulf Coast area.

Among other things, the Task Force Agreement requires the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office to "permit and have readily available for examination and auditing by DEA . . . any and all records, accounts, invoices, receipts or expenditures relating to this agreement." Id. ¶ 10. In addition, the agreement requires that office to "comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all requirements imposed by or pursuant to the regulations of the Department of Justice impending that law, 28 CFR Part 42, subparts C and D." Id. ¶ 11.

A. Request Number 04-1286-F

In May 2004, plaintiff sent a letter to DEA requesting "statistical information regarding the New Orleans' DEA . . . concerning Controlled Substances; the arrest, conviction, ethnicity, race, color, probation, sentence, parole, type of drugs, and so fourth," in the years 1994 and 1995. Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."), Attach. ("Odegard Decl."), Ex. 8 (May 17, 2004 letter to K.L. Myrick, Chief, Operations Unit, FOI/Records Management Section, DEA). Notwithstanding plaintiff's reference to a prior FOIA request, DEA construed his May 17, 2004 letter as a new request, and assigned it Request No. 04-1286-F. Id. ¶ 14 & Ex. 4 (June 1, 2004 letter from K.L. Myrick).*fn2

DEA released 11 pages of records which presented in chart form the New Orleans Field Office's arrests and convictions by race and ethnicity and by drug category. Odegard Decl. ¶ 17. Plaintiff did not appeal DEA's response. Id. ¶ 18; see Memorandum of Points and Authorities Against Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Attach. (Affirmance and Objections to Declaration of Adele H. Odegard) ¶ 18.*fn3

B. Request Number 04-1490-F

Plaintiff's FOIA request to the "Office of Operations and Management Coordinator and Administers [sic] of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) State and Local Tasdk [sic] Forece [sic] Program" requested 13 items or types of information. Odegard Decl. ¶¶ 18-19 & Ex. 13 (June 14, 2004 letter). In response to the request, assigned Request No. 04-1490-F, DEA notified plaintiff that the agency's Statistical Services Section "did not possess data on specific task forces," and could retrieve data only "by state or DEA field division, not by parish." Id. ¶ 22 & Ex. 16 (November 17, 2004 letter from K.L. Myrick). On administrative appeal to the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP"), the matter was remanded to DEA for further processing. Id. ¶ 25 & Ex.19 (March 4, 2005 letter from R.L. Huff, Co-Director, OIP). OIP staff concluded that plaintiff's request, though not clearly enunciated, was broader than a request for statistical information. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Subsequent searches led to the release of 17 redacted pages of records, and the withholding of two pages of records in full. Id. ¶ 28.

C. Request Number 04-1491-F

Plaintiff's July 7, 2004 letter to DEA acknowledged receipt of the records released in response to Request No. 04-1286-F, and asked that DEA "narrow the statistics down to Tangipahoa Parish or to the Standard State and Local Task Force Agreement between the Sheriff of that Parish and the DEA Field Division of New Orleans[] . . . for the years in question, 1994-1995." Odegard Decl., Ex. 20 (July 7, 2004 letter addressed to Ms. Drewery). DEA treated this letter as a new FOIA request, assigned Request Number 04-1491-F. Id. ¶ 30.

DEA notified plaintiff that its Statistical Services Section did not maintain statistics for specific task forces or by city, county, or parish. Odegard Decl. ¶ 31 & Ex. 21 (November 17, 2004 letter from K.L. Myrick). OIP affirmed this decision on administrative appeal. Id. ¶ 34 & Ex. 24 (February 2, 2005 letter from R.L. Huff).

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff views all of his FOIA requests to DEA collectively as an ongoing search for statistical information to explain his prosecution in a federal district court rather than in the state courts of Louisiana after his arrest by agents participating in the New Orleans Field Division Task Force. See Pl.'s Opp'n (Affirmance and Objections) at 7, 20-21.

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits or declarations, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits or declarations or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that 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); see also Hertzberg v. Veneman, 273 F.Supp.2d 67, 74 (D.D.C. 2003).*fn4 Such affidavits or declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by 'purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.'" SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. Sec. and Exchange Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

A plaintiff "may generally seek judicial review of his FOIA request only after he has exhausted all administrative remedies." Pollack v. Dep't of Justice, 49 F.3d 115, 118 (4th Cir. 1995); Oglesby v. United States Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 61-62 (D.C. Cir. 1990). A FOIA suit generally cannot proceed if a plaintiff fails to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Hidalgo v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 344 F.3d 1256, 1260 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (remanding with instruction for district court to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to exhaust); see Dettmann v. United States Dep't of Justice, 802 F.2d 1472, 1477 (D.C. Cir. 1986).

Defendant has no record that plaintiff appealed the DEA's initial decision in response to Request Number 04-1286-F, Odegard Decl. ¶ 18, and plaintiff concedes this point. See Pl.'s Opp'n (Declaration) at 26 ¶ 18. The Court therefore need not further consider the adequacy of defendant's response to Request Number 04-1286-F.

C. Adequacy of Searches and Vaughn Index

"An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Valencia-Lucena v. United States Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990)); see also Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (FOIA requires agency to conduct search using methods reasonably expected to produce requested information). The agency bears the burden of showing that its search was calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Steinberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail 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 the FOIA. Id. at 127. If the record "leaves substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of the search, summary judgment for the agency is not proper." Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d at 542.

The DEA also bears the burden of justifying its decision to withhold records or portions of records. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). Its declarant must describe the records withheld, and show that the records fall within the claimed exemption or exemptions. Canning v. United States Dep't of Justice, 848 F.Supp. 1037, 1043 (D.D.C. 1994). Defendant accomplished this task by submitting two declarations and a separate Vaughn Index. See Odegard Decl.; Def.'s Reply, Declaration of Leila Wassom ("Wassom Decl."), Ex. C (Vaughn Index). With these submissions, the Court can "derive . . . a clear explanation of why each document or portion of a document withheld is putatively exempt from disclosure." Manna v. United States Dep't of Justice, 832 F.Supp. 866, 873 (D.N.J. 1993) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

D. Requests and ...


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