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Keys v. Dep't of Homeland Security

September 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan Kay United States Magistrate Judge


Pending before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [16], Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint [17], Plaintiff's Motion in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Disposition [18], and Defendant's Reply [19]. Defendant moves the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), to dismiss Plaintiff's claim as moot. In the alternative, Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

I. Background

This case arises from a Freedom of Information Act request that pro se Plaintiff Darren Lamont Keys lodged with the United States Secret Service on June 30, 2003. Def.'s Ex. A [16-4]. Plaintiff requested that the Secret Service provide "any and all records in your file regarding me." Id.On July 9, 2003, the Secret Service Freedom of Information / Privacy Act (FOI/PA) officer acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's request. Def.'s Ex. B [16-5]. On August 26, 2003, after receiving a notarized statement from Plaintiff attesting to his identity and a commitment from Plaintiff to pay up to $25 in fees, the Secret Service informed Plaintiff that it would begin a search of its records for the files sought. Def.'s Ex. D [16-7].

Acting on Plaintiff's request, the agency searched the Secret Service Master Criminal Index (MCI), an online record-keeping system used by the Secret Service, using the Plaintiff's name, date of birth, and social security number. Ulmer Decl. ¶¶ 17-18. The MCI search produced three files indexed to Plaintiff's name in three Secret Service Field Offices (Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Los Angeles). Id. ¶ 20. The Field Offices forwarded these files to the FOI/PA Office, which determined that the files were responsive to Plaintiff's request. Id. The FOI/PA Office also requested that four other agencies that might maintain files regarding Plaintiff - the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys - search their records. Def.'s Ex. G-J [16-10] [16-11] [16-12] [16-13]. These searches did not yield any responsive materials. Ulmer Decl. ¶ 21.

By letter dated July 18, 2007, the Secret Service provided Plaintiff with documents in response to his FOIA request and indicated that 279 pages were withheld in their entirety under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act (PA). Def.'s Ex. F [16-9]. On July 24, 2007, the Secret Service released an additional twenty-three pages of a twenty-five page document. Def.'s Ex. K [16-14]. By letter dated August 13, 2007, the Secret Service provided Plaintiff with additional documents and indicated that a total of 226 pages, all of which related to a criminal investigation of a third party, were being withheld under FOIA and the PA. Def.'s Ex. L [16-15].

On March 13, 2007, Plaintiff filed an "Emergency Petition for Mandamus" in which he alleged that Defendant failed to comply with its obligations under FOIA. Pl.'s Pet. at 2 [1]. While Plaintiff did not specify which aspects of Defendant's compliance were deficient, he cited to case law describing an agency's duty to conduct a reasonable search and an agency's burden of justifying materials that it withheld under FOIA Exemptions. Id. at 3. Plaintiff asked the Court to, inter alia, issue an order directing Defendant to disclose the requested information and provide a Vaughn index. Id. at 4. On April 23, 2007, United States District Judge James Robertson issued an Order denying Plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandamus but allowing the action to proceed against Defendant as a civil action pursuant to FOIA [6].

II. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court will grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, . . . 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." The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party opposing the motion then "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 255.

Summary judgment is the procedural vehicle by which Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cases are typically resolved. Harrison v. Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, 377 F.Supp.2d 141, 145 (D.D.C. 2005). A defendant in a FOIA action is entitled to summary judgment if the defendant proves that it has fully discharged its obligations under the Act. Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Specifically, the agency must demonstrate that (1) it conducted an adequate and good faith search for the requested documents, Oglesby v. Dep't of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990); (2) any documents that it withheld fall within one of the FOIA exemptions, Beck v. Dep't of Justice, 997 F.2d 1489, 1491 (D.C. Cir. 1993); and (3) it disclosed all "reasonably segregable," nonexempt material, Mead Data Cent. v. Dep't of the Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 260 (D.C. Cir. 1977). In determining whether the defendant agency has met this burden, "the underlying facts and the inferences to be drawn from them are construed in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester. Id.

III. Discussion

A. Adequacy of Search

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a defendant agency "must show that is has 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, 920 F.2d at 68. Because an agency's search must by reasonable, but not exhaustive, the agency need only search those record systems that are likely to produce responsive documents. Id. The agency must submit "[a] reasonably detailed affidavit, setting forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and averring that all files likely to contain responsive materials (if such records exist) were searched." Id. The purpose of this affidavit is "to afford a FOIA requester an opportunity to challenge the adequacy of the search and to allow the district court to determine if the search was adequate in order to grant summary judgment." Id.

Defendant has demonstrated that the Secret Service conducted an adequate search in response to Plaintiff's FOIA request. The Ulmer Declaration describes how the Secret Service used Plaintiff's name, social security number and date of birth to search for responsive documents in the Master Central Index. Ulmer Decl. ¶ 17. Because all field offices of the Secret Service use the MCI to record information on individuals who are subjects in investigative or administrative files, the MCI is a record system that was likely to produce responsive documents. Id. ¶ 19. The Secret Service also sent requests to other agencies, asking them to search their files for responsive records. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff does not challenge the adequacy of the agency's search. See Pl.'s Opp'n. Based on the affidavit ...

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