United States District Court, District of Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
David Laundon Cleveland, Catholic Charities, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.
Wynne Patrick Kelly, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.
REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.
The plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2006), seeking the release of a three-page " Assessment to Refer" prepared by an Asylum Officer for the United States Department of Homeland Security (" DHS" ). Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (" Compl." ) ¶¶ 1-2, 35-37. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes
for the following reasons that the defendant's motion must be granted in part and denied in part without prejudice, and the plaintiff's motion must be denied without prejudice.
The following facts are undisputed. On January 21, 2011, the plaintiff filed an application for asylum with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (" Immigration" ), a component of the DHS. Def.'s Facts ¶ 10. An Immigration Asylum Officer conducted an interview with the plaintiff concerning her asylum application on May 10, 2011. Id. ¶ 13. After determining that the plaintiff's application should be denied, the Asylum Officer prepared a three-page document, known as an " Assessment to Refer" (" Assessment" ), summarizing the evidence and explaining the Officer's findings. Compl. ¶ 35; Def.'s Facts ¶ 14. Based on the Assessment, Immigration denied the plaintiff's asylum application and referred her to an immigration judge for removal proceedings. Def.'s Facts ¶ 14; Pl.'s Facts Opp'n ¶ 14.
Immigration then issued the plaintiff a " Referral Notice" on May 24, 2011, stating that " applicants for asylum must credibly establish that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and that they merit a grant of asylum in the exercise of discretion." Def.'s Facts ¶ 13 (quotation marks omitted). The Referral Notice explained that " after careful consideration of all available information and explanations at your asylum interview, your claim was deemed not credible on the basis of the lack of detail(s) on material points." Id. (quotation marks omitted).
The plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to Immigration on June 29, 2011, seeking various documents relating to her asylum application. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 1, 3. Immigration subsequently produced some responsive records to the plaintiff, but withheld others as exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. Id. ¶ 4. The plaintiff administratively appealed Immigration's determination, and specifically " sought an unredacted copy of ... the ‘ Assessment to Refer’ " prepared by the Asylum Officer. Id. ¶ 6. Immigration denied the plaintiff's administrative appeal, claiming that the Assessment was exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. Id. ¶ 7.
The plaintiff instituted this action on May 16, 2012. Her complaint asserts that the defendant's withholding of the Assessment violates (1) the FOIA, (2) the plaintiff's due process right to a fair trial, and (3) the Administrative Procedure Act (" APA" ), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706 (2006). See Compl. ¶¶ 40-49. The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
After the parties completed briefing of their motions, the plaintiff's removal proceedings were conducted before an immigration judge in November 2012. Status Report ¶ 1. The DHS did not use the Assessment during the proceedings, nor did it produce the document to the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 2, 5. At the conclusion of the proceedings on November 30, 2012, the plaintiff was granted asylum. Id. ¶ 3.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment will be granted " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). And " FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment." Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol,623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C.2009) (collecting cases). " [T]he agency bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, even when the underlying facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the requester." Weisberg v. DOJ, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350-51 (D.C.Cir.1983) (citation omitted). To satisfy this burden, the agency may rely upon affidavits, declarations, and other exhibits that describe the requested 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 [ ]or by evidence of agency bad ...