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Paxson v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

May 14, 2014

DONALD L. PAXSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants

DONALD L PAXSON, Plaintiff, Pro se, Forth Worth, TX.

For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendants: Peter Rolf Maier, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 56

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

The plaintiff, Donald L. Paxson, who is proceeding pro se, filed this suit seeking a copy of a search warrant executed at his residence in Boerne, Texas in June, 2006, pursuant to " The Freedom of Information [" FOIA" ] and Privacy Acts, 5 U.S.C. § 552 and 5 U.S.C. § 552a." Compl., ECF No. 1, at 1 (Heading) and ¶ ¶ 3,7, 11 (referring to request for copy of the search warrant).[1]

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Following a search for records responsive to the plaintiff's FOIA request, the defendants, the Department of Justice (" DOJ" ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ), located no responsive documents and now seek summary judgment in their favor.[2] The plaintiff contests the adequacy of the search because responsive documents " did in fact exist . . . at some point." Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Opp'n" ). For the reasons set out below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Upon receipt of the plaintiff's FOIA request, which was directed to the FBI, the FBI requested additional information from the plaintiff to facilitate the conduct of an accurate search of the FBI's Central Records System (" CRS" ). Decl. of David M. Hardy, FBI Section Chief, Record/Information Dissemination Section (" RIDS" ), Records Management Division (" RMD" )(" Hardy Decl." ), ECF No. 12-3, ¶ 6. The plaintiff provided the requested additional information and clarified that he was " looking for the search warrant and the search warrant return and the inventory list of what was taken, and the affidavit from agent [illegible], and the indictment." Id. ¶ 7, Ex. C.

The CRS is a records management system used by the FBI primarily as an investigative tool but also " to conduct searches that are likely to yield documents responsive to FOIA and Privacy Act requests," including documents located at FBI Headquarters and all field offices. Id. ¶ ¶ 13, 19. The defendants conducted an automated search of the CRS in order to locate any responsive documents using " variations of a phonetic breakdown of the [p]lantiff's first, middle, and last name," as well as the " plaintiff's date of birth and social security number." Id. ¶ 19. No responsive documents were located, however. Id. ¶ 20.

The plaintiff was notified that no responsive records were located and he filed an administrative appeal of the FBI's " no record" response, id. ¶ 20, Ex. E, stating that he did " not believe the FBI performed an adequate search for the copy of the Search Warrant (5:06-391-M) [he] requested." Hardy Decl, Ex. F (Pl.'s Letter, dated November 9, 2012, filing appeal to DOJ's Office of Information Policy). The plaintiff subsequently filed this action, on April 29, 2013, seeking relief under FOIA and the Privacy Act. Shortly thereafter, in July 2013, the FBI conducted a second search of the CRS for " 'reference entries,' . . . sometimes called a 'cross-reference,'" which covers information mentioned or referenced " in a document located in another 'main' file on a different subject matter." Id. ¶ 14. This search " located one potentially responsive cross-reference." Id. ¶ 20. Upon further examination, the defendants determined that the cross-reference was not responsive but " as a courtesy," the FBI has released nineteen pages of cross-referenced records, with redactions, under FOIA Exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C), of names and other identifying information, like telephone numbers, of

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FBI Special Agents and support personnel. Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21, 35-39, Ex. H. The plaintiff does not challenge these redactions. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2 (stating " [he] has no interest in knowing the names of any agents assigned to his investigation" ).

The defendants have now moved for summary judgment. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 12. As noted, the plaintiff opposes this motion, which ...


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