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Trupei v. Drug Enforcement Administration


April 27, 2007


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


In this action brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, plaintiff challenges the Drug Enforcement Administration's ("DEA") failure to produce the letter of appointment of Special Agent Mark J. Bumar that he requested by letter of June 5, 2005. Defendants move for summary judgment.*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the entire record, the Court will grant defendant's motion and enter judgment accordingly.


Defendant's Statement of Material Facts [Dkt. No. 15-5], supported by the Declaration of Leila I. Wassom ("Wassom Decl."), is substantially undisputed.*fn2 In response to plaintiff's request received with the instant complaint filed on June 26, 2006, defendant queried DEA's personnel records system. Facts ¶ 7. It discovered that Special Agent Bumar had retired from federal service on February 22, 2003, and that his personnel files were sent to the National Personnel Record Center ("NPRC") in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 14, 2004. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. By letter of September 5, 2006, DEA informed plaintiff that "if [responsive] records exist, they would be maintained at the [NPRC] and are no longer in DEA's custody or control." Wassom Decl., Ex. I.


Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits or declarations, if any, demonstrate 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. See Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. In a FOIA action, the Court may award summary judgment to an agency solely on the basis of information provided in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail . . . 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 Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974).

The Court's jurisdiction under the FOIA extends only to claims arising from the improper withholding of agency records. McGehee v. CIA, 697 F.2d 1095, 1105 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (quoting Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150 (1980)). An agency is required to produce only those records in its custody and control at the time of the FOIA request. Id., 697 F.2d at 1110. When, as here, responsive records are not located, the Court must determine whether the agency conducted an adequate search for records. A search is adequate if the agency demonstrates "beyond material doubt [] that it has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983); see Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325-26 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Blanton v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 63 F. Supp.2d 35, 40-41 (D.D.C. 1999). "Once the agency has shown that its search was reasonable, the burden shifts to [plaintiff] to rebut [defendant's] evidence by a showing that the search was not conducted in good faith." Moore v. Aspin, 916 F. Supp. 32, 35 (D.D.C. 1996) (citing Miller v. U.S. Dep't of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1383 (8th Cir. 1985)). Summary judgment is inappropriate "if a review of the record raises substantial doubt" about the adequacy of the search. Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d at 326 (citing Founding Church of Scientology v. National Security Agency, 610 F.2d 824, 837 (D.C. Cir. 1979)).

Plaintiff does not challenge defendant's search, which the Court finds from the Wassom declaration to have been adequate under the circumstances. See Wassom Decl. ¶ 16. Rather, plaintiff asserts that DEA's untimely response to his FOIA request and its failure to forward the request to NPRC suggest agency bad faith. Pl.'s Objections to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Verified [Dkt. No. 18] at 4-10. Agency declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith. . . ." Long v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 450 F. Supp.2d 42, 54 (D.D.C. 2006) (citation and quotation omitted). To sustain his claim, plaintiff "must point to evidence sufficient to put the Agency' s good faith into doubt." Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. C.I.A., 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Plaintiff cannot satisfy this burden because "initial delays in responding to a FOIA request are rarely, if ever, grounds for discrediting later affidavits by the agency." Iturralde v. Comptroller of Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).*fn3 And, DEA had no statutory or regulatory obligation to forward plaintiff's request to another agency or agency component. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 16.1, 16.4 (limiting FOIA processing to DOJ records); National Sec. Archive v. Archivist of the U.S., 909 F.2d 541, 546 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("[A]n entity that does not have 'possession or control' of requested documents [is not required] to forward a request to the appropriate entity.").

In the absence of any evidence of an improper withholding of responsive records or agency bad faith, the Court concludes that defendant has fulfilled its obligations under the FOIA and therefore is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

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