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Archibald v. United State Department of Justice

United States District Court, District Circuit

June 17, 2013



REGGIE B.WALTON, United States District Judge.

The pro se plaintiff, George H. Archibald, brings this action against the defendants, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") and the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), [1]pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2006) ("FOIA"), seeking disclosure of information related to President Obama's status as a natural born or naturalized United States citizen. Currently before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment.[2] After carefully considering the parties' submissions, [3] the Court concludes, for the following reasons, that it must grant the defendants' motion.


As explained in detail in the Court's March 13, 2013 Order, ECF No. 20, this case follows the repeated efforts of the plaintiff, a newspaper reporter, to obtain files from the FBI's 2008 background check of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. See ECF No. 20 at 2-3. The following facts are undisputed.[4] "On April 21, 2011, [the plaintiff] submitted a FOIA request to the FBI seeking access to records pertaining to President Barack Obama and requesting a waiver of fees." Defs.' Statement ¶ 1. On May 4, 2011, the FBI responded in a letter to the plaintiff that the records sought could not "be released absent express authorization and consent of the third party, proof that the [third party] is deceased, or a clear demonstration that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the personal privacy interest, " 14. ¶ 2, and further advised the plaintiff of his right to appeal the agency's decision denying his request to the DOJ's Office of Information Policy, Id. ¶ 3.

Along with the letter denying the plaintiffs request, "[t]he FBI also enclosed a Certification of Identity form, to be completed by [President Obama] before it could conduct a search for records." Id "The FBI's response also noted that it would 'conduct a search for any public records . . . such as court records and news clippings, without the express authorization of [President Obama], proof of death, or public justification for release.'" Id (quoting Defs.' Mem., Exhibit ("Ex.") A (August 30, 2012 Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy Decl.")) ¶ 6). Because the plaintiffs original request did not request the production of public records, and because he did not subsequently request that he be provided any public records, the FBI did not conduct a search for such records. Id

In two letters dated May 11, 2011, and May 13, 2011, see id ¶¶ 4-5, the plaintiff stated that while he had sent the Certification of Identity form to President Obama, he did not believe that it was necessary for him to complete the form before a search for records was conducted because "he believed that President Obama had 'waived his rights under the Privacy Act... by running for President and submitting to an FBI background check, '" id ¶ 4. "In a letter dated May 27, 2011, [the plaintiff] appealed the FBI's response to his FOIA request to [the DOJ's Office of Information Policy]." Id ¶ 6. "In a June 22, 2011 letter, the [Office of Information Policy] acknowledged receiving [the plaintiffs] appeal on June 15, 2011, " id ¶ 7, and on September 16, 2011, the Office "informed [the plaintiff] by letter that it had affirmed [the] FBI's action on his FOIA request, " id ¶ 8. Enclosed with the September 16, 2011 letter was "a copy of the long form birth certificate of President Obama, which was released by the White House subsequent to [the] FBI's receipt of [the] plaintiffs request." Id ¶ 9.

The plaintiff then filed this lawsuit on November 16, 2011. Id ¶ 10. The FBI refused to provide any responsive records to the plaintiff on the grounds that the documents are exempt from disclosure "pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C)." Id. ¶ 11.

The defendants have now moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff opposes the motion, and requests that the Court require the defendants to submit the requested records to the Court for in camera review, as well as require the defendants to produce a Vaughn index pursuant to Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973).


A court reviews an agency's response to a FOIA request de novo, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), and "FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment, " ViroPharma Inc. v. HHS, 839 F.Supp.2d 184, 189 (D.D.C. 2012) (citations omitted). The Court will grant summary judgment 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. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). More specifically, in a FOIA action to compel production of agency records, the agency "is entitled to summary judgment if no material facts are in dispute and if it demonstrates 'that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced . . . or is wholly exempt from the [FOIA's] inspection requirements.'" Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978)).

Summary judgment in a FOIA case may be based solely on information provided in an agency's supporting affidavits or declarations if they are "relatively detailed and nonconclusory, " Safe Card Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotations and citations omitted), and when they:

describe the 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 faith.

Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (DC. Cir. 1981); see Beltranena v. Clinton, 770 F.Supp.2d 175, 181-82 (D.D.C. 2011). In determining whether the defendant agency has met its burden, "the underlying facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the [FOIA] requester." Weisberg v. DOJ, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983). "To successfully challenge an agency's showing that it complied with the FOIA, the plaintiff must come forward with 'specific facts' demonstrating that there is a genuine issue with respect to whether the agency has ...

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