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Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Transp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 8, 2012

SAFETY RESEARCH & STRATEGIES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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David L. Sobel, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Peter C. Pfaffenroth, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. (" SRS" ) has sued the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging that defendant has violated the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. (" FOIA" ). (Complaint, Apr. 10, 2012 [ECF No. 1].) Before the Court is defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (July 11, 2012 [ECF No. 6] (" Def.'s Mot." )), and plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (Aug. 28, 2012 [ECF No. 10] (" Pl.'s Opp'n" )). For the reasons stated, the Court will deny defendant's motion and hold plaintiff's motion in abeyance.

BACKGROUND

On November 22, 2011, plaintiff sent a FOIA request to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (" NHTSA" ) of the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, July 11, 2012 [ECF No. 6] (" Def.'s Facts" ) ¶ 6.) Plaintiff sought " copies of any and all of NHTSA's correspondence, manufacturer responses, additional correspondence or submissions, including but not limited to electronic indices or attachments involving Recall 08C002000, Evenflo Discovery car seats models 390, 391, 534 and 552, and associated travel systems." ( Id., citing DiMarsico Decl. Ex. A, Nov. 22, 2011 Letter.) Plaintiff further requested three specific categories of records:

(1) Copies of laboratory test reports and videos conducted by NHTSA that led to the recall of the Discovery car seats, models 390, 391, 534 and 552;
(2) All correspondence and other documentation, including, but not limited to meeting minutes and agendas, electronic communications from NHTSA to Evenflo concerning those tests and their outcomes; and
(3) Evenflo's chronology " of all principal events that were the basis for the determination that the defect related to motor vehicle safety, including a summary of all warranty claims, field or service reports, and other information, with their dates of receipt," associated with Recall 08C002000, as required under Sec 573.1 Defect and noncompliance information report.

( Id. )

NHTSA determined that responsive records would be located in the Office of Defects Investigation (" ODI" ) and the New Car Assessment Division (" NCAP" ). (DiMarsico Decl. ¶ 19.) Those offices then identified personnel likely to have responsive records. ( Id. ) The potential document custodians were instructed to search their paper files, electronic files, and email correspondence for documents related to plaintiff's request. ( Id. ) Through that process, NHTSA identified 158 pages, 16 photographs, and 9 videos that were responsive to plaintiff's request, of which 104 pages were exempt from release under FOIA Exemption 4. (Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 11-12, citing DiMarsico Decl. ¶¶ 23-24.) Thus, on January 6, 2012, NHTSA released 54 pages, 16 photographs, and 9 videos to

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plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 11, citing DiMarsico Decl. ¶¶ 23, 25.) All of the above documents related to category (1). ( Id. ) NHTSA did not identify any documents responsive to categories ...


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