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Sheffield v. Holder

United States District Court, District Circuit

June 27, 2013

DONNIE WAYNE SHEFFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 21].[1] For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (“EOUSA”), a component of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), for the following:

I hereby request that you send me one copy of each and every document which is either in your possession or is under your control that either refers, relate[s] or pertains to either the arrest or to the Department of Justice’s prosecution of the [plaintiff] for his alleged violation of 18 USC § 922(g) or for any other matter.

Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.’s Mem.”), Decl. of David Luczynski (“Luczynski Decl.”), Ex. A (New FOIA Request dated November 14, 2011). The EOUSA acknowledged its receipt of the request. Compl., Ex. B (Letter to plaintiff from Susan B. Gerson, Acting Assistant Director, Freedom of Information & Privacy Staff, EOUSA, dated December 1, 2001). As of the filing of this lawsuit, however, the plaintiff had not received a “comprehensive response” from the EOUSA. Id. ¶ 5.

A preliminary search of records maintained by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina (“USAO/DSC”) yielded approximately 500 pages of records. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 9. “Although not all of these pages [were] likely to be released, [the] plaintiff was notified that EOUSA charges $0.10 per page for duplication of documents that are released after the first 100 pages, which are free.” Id. Fees for the processing of the plaintiff’s request would exceed $25.00, id., and “the request [would] not be considered received and work [would] not be completed until [the plaintiff agreed] to pay the anticipated fees.” Id., Ex. F (Letter to plaintiff from Susan Gerson dated August 23, 2012). However, if the plaintiff wanted “to reduce the amount of fees, ” the EOUSA suggested that he “reformulate [his] request.” Id. Plaintiff availed himself of the opportunity, and reformulated his request as follows:

I hereby request that you send me each and every document which is either in your possession or under your control that either relates, refers or pertains to U.S. Marshal[] Stewart Cottingham’s participation in the arrest of the [plaintiff] on January 11, 2006 in Florence, S.C.

Id., Ex. H (FOIA Request dated May 2, 2011). A search for this more specific set of materials yielded no responsive records. Id. ¶ 13; see id., Ex. J (Letter to plaintiff from Susan B. Gerson dated November 28, 2012).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

“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). The Court grants summary judgment if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Generally, to prevail in a FOIA case, “the defending agency must prove that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is wholly exempt from the [FOIA’s] inspection requirements.” Nat’l Cable Television Ass’n v. FCC, 479 F.2d 183, 186 (D.C. Cir. 1973).

“A requester dissatisfied with the agency’s response that no records have been found may challenge the adequacy of the agency’s search [for responsive records].” Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 326 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Antonelli v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.Supp.2d 15, 28 (D.D.C. 2008) (“Where no records were found . . ., the Court must determine the adequacy of [agency’s] search.”). In these circumstances, the Court may rely on affidavits or declarations submitted by the agency “as long as they are relatively detailed and nonconclusory and . . . submitted in good faith.” Weisberg v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Although the agency’s affidavits or declarations “are presumed to be in good faith, ” a requester “can rebut this presumption with evidence of bad faith.” Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., 384 F.Supp.2d 100, 107 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 92 ...


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