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Latham v. U.S. Dep't of Justice

September 30, 2009

WATEZ LATHAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") has moved to dismiss the complaint.*fn1 Treating the motion as one for summary judgment, the Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On or about July 10, 2008, plaintiff submitted a request to the DEA, a component of the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552. Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("DEA Mot."), Declaration of William C. Little, Jr. ("Little Decl.") ¶ 13; see First Amd. Compl. ¶ 1. In relevant part, plaintiff's letter stated:

I am requesting a complete and thorough search of your filing system under your agency's control, of any records you may have that pertain in any form or sort to myself. Furthermore, any other retrieval system that you have access to that list[s] in any form my name or reference to my name, I ask that these documents as well be included in this request, in their entirety, and as fully as possible.

Little Decl., Ex. A (July 10, 2008 FOIA request) at 1. DEA staff acknowledged receipt of plaintiff's letter and assigned the matter a reference number, DEA FOIA Case No. 08-1099. Id., Ex. B (August 1, 2008 letter from K.L. Myrick, Chief, Operations Unit, FOI/Records Management Section). According to plaintiff, as of the filing of this action, he had received no response from the DEA. Amd. Compl. ¶ 3. According to the DEA, staff thereafter sent plaintiff a certified letter to inform him that his request had been denied because it "did not reasonably describe records, . . . was not filed in accordance with agency rules, and . . . did not include a promise to pay or request . . . a waiver of fees." Little Decl. ¶ 17; see id. ¶ 21; see also id., Ex. D (mail return receipt).

In this action, plaintiff demands that the DEA produce all requested records, or if records are withheld, that the DEA produce a Vaughn Index explaining its reasons why the records are exempt from disclosure. Amd. Compl. at 6 (Conclusion). In addition, plaintiff demands an award of $1,000. Id. The DEA moves to dismiss the complaint on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action. See DEA Mot. at 19-22.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Because "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court," Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d), the Court treats the DEA's motion as one for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. See Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, 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 genuine issues 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 documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quoting Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982)); LCvR 7(h).

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) (quoting 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 an agency's 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 [or] by evidence of agency bad faith."*fn2 Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

The FOIA directs an agency to "determine within twenty [working] days . . . after the receipt of [a FOIA] request whether to comply with such request and shall immediately notify" the requester of its determination. 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(a)(6)(A)(i). The requester may appeal an adverse determination to the agency head, who shall make his determination and notify ...


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