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Elliott v. National Archives and Records Administration

October 30, 2007

DAMON ELLIOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On or about December 5, 2006, plaintiff submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration ("NARA") a request under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Complaint ("Compl.") at 2. Plaintiff sought to purchase copies of records pertaining to federal ownership of the land on which the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center ("BARC") is located. Id. & Attach. (Dec. 5, 2006 FOIA Request).

NARA received two slightly different FOIA requests, both dated December 6, 2006, requesting the same records. Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."), Declaration of James J. Hastings ("Hastings Decl.") ¶ 6 & Attach. A at 1-2. Both of these requests cited 40 U.S.C. § 255 and stated in relevant part:

that acceptance by the Federal Government of exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction cannot be presumed but must be demonstrated by filing a notice with the Legislature of the State of Maryland and the report of the Attorney General of the United States that a perfect title had been secured . . . over the land of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

Compl., Attach. (internal quotation marks omitted). According to plaintiff, NARA did not respond to his request in a timely manner, and he brings this action to compel disclosure of the requested records. Id. at 2.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

To obtain summary judgment in a FOIA action, an agency must show, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the requester, that there is no genuine issue of material fact with regard to the agency's compliance with FOIA. Steinberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Weisberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The Court may award summary judgment solely on the information provided in affidavits or declarations when they describe "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."*fn1 Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

B. NARA's Search for Responsive Records Was Adequate

1. Search Standards

"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.'" ValenciaLucena 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)). The agency is obligated to make "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. United States Dep't of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citing Weisberg, 745 F.2d at 1485). An agency may meet its burden by providing an affidavit or declaration which sets forth "the search terms and the type of search performed, and averring that all files likely to contain responsive materials . . . were searched." Iturralde v. Comptroller of the Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 313-14 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing Valencia-Lucena, 180 F.3d at 326). Such affidavits or declarations "enjoy a presumption of ...


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