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Cause of Action v. National Archives and Records Admin.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 1, 2013


Page 183

Daniel Zachary Epstein, Karen Marie Groen, Chief Oversight Counsel, Cause of Action, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Daniel Schwei, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Federal Programs Branch, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

In 2009, in the wake of the recent financial upheaval, Congress passed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, Pub. L. No. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617 (2009). Among other things, FERA created the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a temporary, 10-member, bipartisan body established within the legislative branch to " examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States." Id., § 5(a). The FCIC completed its investigatory work, submitted a report to Congress in early 2011, and terminated pursuant to the statute a few weeks later. Shortly after the Commission ceased to exist, its records were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, the Defendant in this case, for preservation and processing.

Plaintiff Cause of Action submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to NARA on October 3, 2011, seeking copies of the FCIC's records. NARA denied this request, explaining that as the FCIC was a commission established within the legislative branch, its records were legislative records not subject to FOIA. After Cause of Action unsuccessfully appealed this initial denial, it filed this suit on August 14, 2012, alleging that NARA's failure to disclose the requested records violated FOIA.

NARA has now brought the instant Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, for Summary Judgment, arguing again that the FCIC's records are legislative records beyond the scope of FOIA. Cause of Action has filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as a Motion to Strike certain declarations filed as exhibits to

Page 184

NARA's Motion. Because the Court finds that the FCIC records are not agency records subject to FOIA, it will grant NARA's Motion to Dismiss and deny as moot Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as its Motion to Strike the particular declarations.

I. Background

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was created as a temporary body within the legislative branch. See FERA, § 5(a). According to the Complaint, the FCIC submitted its concluding report to Congress on January 27, 2011, and terminated by statute on February 13. See Compl., ¶¶ 13-14. Meanwhile, on February 10, Phil Angelides, Chairman of the Commission, wrote to David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States (the head of NARA), describing a number of restrictions the FCIC wished to impose on future access to its records, which were to be housed by NARA upon the Commission's termination. See id., ¶ 15 & Exh. 1 (Angelides Letter). The next day, the records were transferred to NARA, and that transfer was memorialized by the signing of a Standard Form Agreement between the FCIC and NARA. See id., ¶ 17 & Exh. 2 (Standard Form 258). Additional details about the restrictions and transfer are set forth in Section III.B, infra.

Plaintiff Cause of Action, a public interest organization, submitted the FOIA request that is the subject of this suit to NARA on October 3, 2011, seeking all FCIC records. See id., ¶ 31 & Exh. 3 (FOIA Request). NARA denied Plaintiff's request, as well as the appeal of that denial. Plaintiff subsequently filed this suit on August 14, 2011. The Court now considers Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike NARA's declarations.

II. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must dismiss a suit when the complaint " fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must " treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc.,216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C.Cir.2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A court need not accept as true, however, " a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C.Cir.2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). Although " detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (internal quotation omitted). Though a plaintiff ...

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