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Hainey v. United States Dept. of the Interior

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 25, 2013

Rosemary McBride HAINEY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Defendant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Rosemary McBride Hainey, Washington, DC, pro se.

Theresa Ekeoma Dike, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT L. WILKINS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Rosemary McBride Hainey (" Hainey" ) brings this action challenging the United States Department of the Interior's response to her request under the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552. This matter is now before the Court on the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. Nos. 12, 14). Upon careful consideration of the parties' briefing and the entire record in this case, the Court concludes, for the reasons set forth herein, that Hainey's Motion will be DENIED and that the Department's Motion will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

According to her Complaint, Hainey " has established a web-sharing webpage which is used as a repository for all Freedom of Information Act records obtained from the federal government," through which she aims to " promote public understanding and debate of issues concerning key current public policy issues, focusing on the hiring and employment ethics in the federal government." (Dkt. No. 1 (" Compl." ) at ¶ 7). On February 13, 2011, she submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Interior's Office of the Secretary, requesting:

[A]ll non-exempt documents relating to vacancy announcements within your Department from January 1, 2008 through January 31, 2011. The records requested includes [sic] but is [sic] not limited to all vacancy announcements, job analyses, applicant ratings, position descriptions (Form OF-8), applicant questionnaires, certificates sent to selecting officials, selections made, and any pass-over requests. This FOIA also requests all non-exempt internal communications relating to hiring reform and your efforts from January 1, 2009 through January 31, 2011.

(Dkt. No. 17, ECF pp. 28-115 (" Hainey Decl." ), Ex. 1 (" FOIA Request" )). [1] Hainey also sought a fee waiver in connection with her request, under FOIA's public interest exception, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). [2] ( Id. ).

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The Department received Hainey's request on February 14, 2011, which meant that, under the statute, the Department's response was due on or before March 15, 2011. (Dkt. No. 17, ECF pp. 9-10 (" Pl.'s Facts" ) at ¶¶ 2-3). On March 30, 2011, the Department sent its response letter to the mailing address that Hainey provided in her FOIA request. (Dkt. No. 14, ECF pp. 3-7 (" Def.'s Facts" ) at ¶ 4). Therein, the Department advised Hainey that her fee waiver was denied, and it also provided its preliminary cost estimate for responding to her request-but only with respect to information held within the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (" BOEMRE" ), one of nine separate bureaus that comprise the Interior Department.[3] ( Id. ¶¶ 3-4). In total, the Department estimated that, as to that particular subset of documents, it would take between 2,373 and 3,164 hours of search time to compile the information Hainey sought, at a cost between $99,666.00 and $132,888.00. ( Id. ). The letter also advised that, given the denial of her fee waiver, Hainey would be responsible for the costs of processing her FOIA request beyond the initial 2 hours of search time and the first 100 pages produced. (Lohr Decl., Ex. B). Finally, the Department's letter indicated that, if Hainey did not submit an amended FOIA request or an agreement to cover the processing fees within twenty business days, the Department would assume that she was no longer interested in pursuing her request and would close its files. ( Id. ).

As it happens, the Department's response did not reach Hainey and was returned to the Department as " unclaimed" on April 26, 2011. (Def.'s Facts at ¶ 6). The Department attempted to send its response to Hainey a second time, on May 11, 2011, but that letter was also returned to the Department as " unclaimed" on June 13, 2011. ( Id. ¶¶ 7-9).

Meanwhile, having received no response on her end, Hainey had already filed an appeal of her FOIA request on March 25, 2011. (Pl.'s Facts at ¶ 5). Apparently, it took the Department almost six months to process that appeal, but ultimately, the Department denied her appeal on September 19, 2011, explaining, in relevant part:

Upon receipt of your appeal, the Department contacted the OS [Office of the Secretary] to ascertain why it has not responded to your FOIA request. The OS has advised that it sent to you a letter dated March 30, 2011, responding to your FOIA request on two separate occasions (copy attached). The OS sent the March 30, 2011, letter to you at the address you provided in your FOIA request and this appeal, however, both were returned by the U.S. Postal Service as being " unclaimed" (copies of the mailing envelopes are attached). Because the OS's March 30, 2011, letter to you was returned on two separate occasions and you did not otherwise resolve the defects with your requests that the OS presented in its March 30, 2011, letter to you, the OS properly closed its files on your request.

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Should you continue to want copies of the documents you seek in your February 13, 2011, FOIA request, you must submit a new FOIA request to the OS. However, please be sure to provide a return address by which the OS can successfully communicate with you and resolve all of the defects that the OS identified in its March 30, 2011, letter.

(Lohr Decl., Ex. B). One week later, on September 26, 2011, Hainey filed her Complaint initiating this lawsuit.[4]

After this action was filed, the Department renewed their attempts to respond to Hainey's FOIA request. To this end, the Department confirmed the estimate originally received from BOEMRE and gathered similar estimates from the Department's other Bureaus. ( Id. ¶ 11). Overall, the Department determined that, during the time period covered by Hainey's request, it had posted more than 30,000 vacancy announcements, and that those vacancy announcements had garnered approximately 3.8 million applications. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12). ...


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