United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For FLORENT BAYALA, Plaintiff: David Laundon Cleveland, LEAD ATTORNEY, CATHOLIC CHARITIES, Washington, DC.
For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Office of the General Counsel, Defendant: Kenneth A. Adebonojo, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.
Re Document Nos.: 14, 18
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, For Summary Judgment; And Denying Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552, Florent
Bayala (" Bayala" ) requested various materials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (" DHS" ). After DHS disclosed certain documents but withheld others, Bayala filed the instant action to compel DHS to explain its reasons, such that he could file a " meaningful" administrative appeal. Before this Court are DHS's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (ECF No. 14) and Bayala's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 18). Having reviewed the parties' submissions, this Court grants DHS's motion and denies Bayala's motion, and dismisses the complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
Bayala is a citizen of Burkina Faso seeking asylum in the United States. See Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. In November 2013, Bayala submitted a FOIA request seeking an asylum officer's notes, the officer's Assessment to Refer memorandum, and other previously undisclosed materials. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 24-25; FOIA Request, Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 1-1. The following month, a DHS representative sent Bayala responsive information on a compact disc, along with a cover letter. Compl. ¶ 27. The letter stated that DHS had decided to withhold certain responsive materials in part or in full, and to submit others to the Department of State and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (" ICE" ) for further consideration. See Letter from Jill A. Eggleston, Director, FOIA Operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to David L. Cleveland, Counsel for Florent Bayala (Dec. 17, 2013), Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 1-2 (" DHS Letter" ). The asylum officer's notes and Assessment to Refer were withheld in full, and the letter explained that such documents " contain no reasonably segregable portion(s) of non-exempt information." Id. Moreover, the letter listed and described four statutory exemptions that it claimed were " applicable" to the withheld information. Lastly, the cover letter advised Bayala of his right to an administrative appeal. Id.
Bayala then filed the instant action without pursuing an administrative appeal. Bayala's complaint claims that DHS's " vague and cryptic" cover letter rendered an administrative appeal " illusory and a waste of time," such that DHS is " thwarting" Bayala's right to appeal. Compl. ¶ 3. ...