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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

August 22, 2014

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant

Decided August 21, 2014

Page 51

For JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff: Michael Bekesha, Paul J. Orfanedes, LEAD ATTORNEYS, JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Washington, DC.

For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: Nathan Michael Swinton, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 52

MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. ##15, 17]

RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Judicial Watch (" plaintiff') filed this action against the United States Department of Justice (" defendant" or " DOJ" ) on September 5, 2013, challenging DOJ's denial of plaintiffs request for records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. See Complaint (" Compl." ) [Dkt. #1], Now before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. See Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Def.'s Mot." ) [Dkt. #15]; Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (" Pl.'s Mot." ) [Dkt. #17]. Upon consideration of the parties' pleadings, relevant law, and the entire record in this case, the Court GRANTS defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.

BACKGROUND

This case involves a challenge to defendant's denial of plaintiff's request for documents pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ). See Compl. -- 5-6. In August 2012, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (" House Committee" ) sued Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce a congressional subpoena for documents related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives " Fast and Furious" operation. See Def.'s Mot. at 1; Pl.'s Mot. at 2; Comm. on Oversight and Gov't Reform v. Holder, No. 12-1332-ABJ (D.D.C. filed Aug. 13, 2012) (" Holder " ). Although the litigation is ongoing, DOJ and the House Committee have endeavored to resolve the subpoena dispute out of court. See Def.'s Mot. at 1; Pl.'s Mot. at 2. As of the writing of this Opinion, settlement discussions remain ongoing, and have included at least three court-ordered mediation sessions. See Defendant's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (" Def.'s Facts" ) ¶ 13 [Dkt. #15-2]; Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (" Pl.'s Facts" ) ¶ 13 [Dkt. #16],

A. Procedural History in Holder

Within months of the complaint in Holder, the parties began discussing the possibility of resolving the case outside of litigation. The parties met in early December 2012 and then exchanged correspondence in late December and early January 2013 regarding potential settlement of the case. See 1/7/2013 Joint Status Report at 4-5, Holder, No. 12-cv-1332 (D.D.C. 2012), ECF No. 32. During a January 10, 2013 status conference before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, Judge Jackson indicated that she did not want the substance of the parties' settlement discussions made public. See Tr. of 1/10/2013 Status Conf. at 8:16, Holder, No. 12-cv-1332 (D.D.C. 2012), ECF No. 39 (" I don't know what you said [in settlement communications]. I don't want to know." ). The parties continued their settlement negotiations, exchanging more letters and draft settlement agreements.

Page 53

See 3/15/2013 Joint Status Report at 1-2, Holder, No. 12-cv-1332 (D.D.C. 2012), ECF No. 40.

On March 15, 2013, in an effort to speed up the pace of negotiations, DOJ requested that Judge Jackson refer the case to Visiting Senior Judge Barbara Rothstein [1] for mediation. See id. at 4; see also 3/18/2013 Order at 1, Holder, No. 12-cv-1332 (D.D.C. 2012), ECF No. 41. Pursuant to an order from Judge Rothstein, the parties submitted memoranda " outlining the current status of the case, including a summary of . . . the settlement history to date, including a summary of any issues that prevented settlement," prior to commencement of the first mediation session. See 3/18/2013 Minute Order, Holder, No. 12-cv-1332 (D.D.C. 2012). DOJ's memorandum contained substantive summaries of the parties' settlement negotiations and attached copies of two letters and two draft settlement agreements exchanged by the parties. See Def.'s Facts ¶ 12; Declaration of John Tyler (" Tyler Decl." ) ¶ 5 [Dkt. #15-4]. Following the conclusion of the first mediation session on April 22, 2013--with the parties failing to reach a ...


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