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Jones v. Executive Office for United States Attorneys

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 9, 2013

TORRANCE JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on defendant’s Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 26]. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

In May 2010, 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”) for information about himself and for information obtained from third parties by law enforcement officers in the course of the criminal proceedings brought against him:

I am specifically requesting the statements that AUSA Christine Hamilton and Raleigh Police Detectives Kennon and A.J. Wisniewski gained during interviews in United States v. Torrance Jones, Case No.: 5:96-CR-79-1-BO. These statements are: Richard Mann on May 15, 1996; Michael Rubel on July 29, 1996; Ricky Draper on September 15, 1996; Bernard Sinclair on September 15, 1996; Daniel Dunning on July 29, 1996; and Brian Eversole on July 29, 1996.

Compl., Ex. 1 (Letter from plaintiff to EOUSA, FOIA/PA Unit, dated May 19, 2010) (emphasis removed). Relying on Exemption 7(C), the EOUSA denied plaintiff’s FOIA request (assigned Request No. 2010-1935) in full, explaining that “records concerning third parties . . . cannot be released without express authorization and consent of the third parties.” Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 9], Decl. of David Luczynski (“Luczynski Decl.”) ¶ 5.

The Court denied defendant’s initial motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 9] on plaintiff’s showing that a genuine issue of material fact was in dispute as to whether some or all of the requested information already had entered the public domain and therefore was not exempt from disclosure under Exemption 7(C). In addition, the Court denied defendant’s renewed motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 20] because the EOUSA failed to demonstrate that its search for records responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request was reasonable under the circumstances. The deficiency has been addressed in the EOUSA’s renewed motion for summary judgment.

II. DISCUSSION

“The Court employs a ‘reasonableness’ test to determine the ‘adequacy’ of search methodology, consistent with the congressional intent tilting in favor of disclosure.” Campbell v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). An agency “fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Dep’t of State, 641 F.3d 504, 514 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]he issue to be resolved is not whether there might exist any other documents possibly responsive to the request, but rather whether the search for those documents was adequate.” Weisberg v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citing Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 128 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). A search need not be exhaustive, however. Miller v. U.S. Dep’t of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1383 (8th Cir. 1985). The agency may submit affidavits or declarations to explain the method and scope of its search, see Perry, 684 F.2d at 126, and such affidavits or declarations are “accorded a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.” SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. Sec. & Exch. Comm’n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The EOUSA’s first declarant described the agency’s search for responsive records as follows:

I began my search by inserting [plaintiff’s] name into the Legal Information Network System (“LIONS”). LIONS is a case management/tracking system used by [United States Attorneys Offices] to record and maintain up-to-date information on cases and matters opened by Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and to produce a variety of reports on that information. From that search, I was able to ascertain that there was one criminal file (USAO 1996R00157) with corresponding appellate file and a separate appellate file (1997R00109) that pertained to court docket no. 5:96-CR-79-1BO, where responsive records would most likely be housed. I easily located the files in our office’s archived records section. (The criminal file had been purged and closed, according to our office’s procedures and policies . . . on January 28, 1997.)

Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.’s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 20], Decl. of Leslie Langenberg ¶ 5. Review of these files yielded no records responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request. See Id . ¶ 6.

Plaintiff countered that the search should have included queries of the relevant databases using each co-defendant’s name as a search term. Mem. of Law & Facts in Supp. of Opp’n to Def.’s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 22] at 6. A second declarant explained that LIONS searches using “the names of [plaintiff], Richard Mann, Michael Rubel, Ricky Draper, Bernard Sinclair, Daniel Dunning and Brian Eversole” yielded “one criminal file (USAO 1996R00157) . . that pertained to court docket number 5:95-CR-79-1BO, where the responsive records would most likely be housed.” Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.’s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 26], Decl. of Robin G. Zier ¶ 2. A search of that criminal case file yielded no records responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request:

All seven of the above-named individuals were defendants in the criminal file, USAO 1996R00157. Although the file had been stripped in accordance with office policy, it still contained individual folders for each of the above-named seven individuals. Each of the seven individual files, as well as the main file, were [sic] carefully reviewed. None of these files contained any statements as set out in the FOIA request that is ...

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