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Salas v. Office of the Inspector General

September 10, 2008

LEO MORENO SALAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 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 defendant's motion, plaintiff's opposition, and the entire record of this case, the Court grants summary judgment for defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

In February 2007, plaintiff submitted a request for information to the Office of the Inspector General ("OIG"), United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. See Compl. at 1.*fn1 He sought "copies of 'the conclusions' of an investigation pertaining to him that he claimed had been undertaken by the OIG in 1994." Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."), Declaration of Deborah Marie Waller ("Waller Decl.") ¶ 2. The OIG released one document after having redacted certain information under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). Id. ¶ 3 & Ex. 2 (February 23, 2007 letter from A. Scott, Paralegal Assistant, OIG, regarding Request 07-OIG-85), Ex. 3 (Complaint Form, OIG No.: TC-601-1994-002916-F). The contents of the document were described as follows:

[It] reflected that on May 11, 1994, the OIG had received by phone an allegation that an employee of the United States Border Patrol (USBP) had used unnecessary force during an encounter with the plaintiff; that the person who had reported the allegation to the OIG was another USBP employee; and that the OIG had not opened an investigation of the allegation.

Id. ¶ 3.*fn2 The DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy upheld the OIG's decision on administrative appeal. Id. ¶ 4 & Ex. 4 (June 18, 2007 letter from J.G. McLeod, Associate Director, OIG, regarding Appeal No. 07-0996). In this action, plaintiff demands release of the report in its entirety. See Compl. at 1.

II. DISCUSSION

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 the 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 or declarations 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).*fn3 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. & Exch. 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. Adequacy of Search

"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)); Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998). 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 explaining 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 declarant explains that the OIG "is responsible for '[i]nvestigat[ing] allegations of criminal wrongdoing and administrative misconduct on the part of [DOJ] employees,' 28 C.F.R. § 0.29a(b)(2), and for auditing and inspecting the programs and operations of [DOJ] and of non-[DOJ] entities that contract with or receive benefits from [DOJ]. Id. at § 0.29a(b)(1)." Waller Decl. ¶ 5. There are "separate divisions to address [the OIG's] investigative, audit, and inspection functions and [the OIG] maintains separate recordkeeping system relating to those functions." Id. "Complaints of misconduct by individual [DOJ] employees are reported to and investigated by the OIG's Investigations Division." Id. ¶ 6. The Investigations Division "maintains a computer database reflecting all complaints received by it and the disposition of those complaints." Id. (emphasis added). One searches the database using the names of subjects, complainants, and victims. Id.

Because plaintiff "sought documents relating to a complaint of misconduct against a [DOJ] employee in which [plaintiff] was the alleged victim," as well as the conclusions of the investigation resulting from that complaint, OIG staff searched the Investigations Division's database using plaintiff's name as a search term. Waller Decl. ΒΆ 7. The search yielded only Complaint Form, OIG No.: ...


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