United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For FREEDOM WATCH, INC., Plaintiff: Larry E. Klayman, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF LARRY KLAYMAN, Washington, DC.
For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendant: Peter C. Pfaffenroth, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.
JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Freedom Watch, Inc., filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Department of State, in which it sought documents relating to certain waivers -- granted pursuant to a specific statute or executive order -- to countries doing business with Iran. After a thorough and comprehensive search, State indicated tat it possessed no responsive documents. Believing that the Department's search was inadequate, Freedom Watch then brought this FOIA suit, and State has now moved for summary judgment. As the search was plainly sufficient and as Plaintiff's arguments to the contrary border on the frivolous, the Court will grant the Motion.
On May 21, 2013, Plaintiff submitted the following FOIA request to the U.S. State and Treasury Departments:
Any and all documents that refer or relate in any way to the final decisions to grant waivers to all countries and other interests doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran pursuant to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, 22 U.S.C. § 8501 et. [ sic ] seq. or Executive Order 13553.
Mot., First Declaration of John F. Hackett, Exh. 1 (Letter) at 1. Upon receipt of a FOIA request, the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) at State first " evaluates the request to determine which offices, overseas posts, or other records systems within the Department may reasonably be expected to contain the records requested." Hackett Decl., ¶ 7. In this instance, IPS concluded that there were eleven offices or records systems in which Plaintiff's documents might conceivably be found: " the Central Foreign Policy Records, the Offices of the Secretary of State, the Office of the Deputy Secretary of State, the Office of the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy, the Executive Secretariat, the Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Offices of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, the Office of the Legal Advisor, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, the Bureau of Energy Resources, and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs." Id., ¶ 9.
John F. Hackett, Acting Director of IPS, submitted a declaration explaining in detail how searches were carried out in each of these eleven components. For example, keyword searches were employed in the Central Foreign Policy Records system, which " contains over 30 million records of a substantive nature." Id., ¶ 10. Searches in the Executive Secretariat were considerably more involved. A Management Analyst searched three different electronic records systems, see id., ¶ 13; numerous staff conducted email searches, see id., ¶ 14; and, " [t]o guard against the possibility that a particular document was overlooked and not scanned . . ., paper files for each principal's office were
searched by the Special Assistants and Staff Assistants assigned to that office." Id., ¶ 15. Staff also " manually searched the paper files" of different departments. See id. Searches in the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, as well as the Office of the Legal Advisor, similarly involved a review of electronic and paper files.
See id., ¶ ¶ 17, 20. In the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, inter alia, " [e]ach member of the Iran Sanctions Team performed searches of their e-mail messages . . . and paper files for records concerning Iran waivers." Id., ¶ 24. Searches in other offices were just as thorough. See id., ¶ ¶ 10-29. No responsive documents, however, were located in any of the eleven component offices. See id., ¶ 30.
As diligent as this search appears, Plaintiff was unconvinced, and it initially brought this action in the Middle District of Florida on September 4, 2013, against both State and Treasury. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint). Judge Anne C. Conway of that district subsequently dismissed the latter agency from the case on July 2, 2014. See ECF No. 22 (Order). State then moved for summary judgment on July 10, and briefing was completed on September 12. See ECF Nos. 24, 28, 32. On October 27, before ruling on the Motion, Judge Conway transferred the case to the District of Columbia on venue grounds. Freedom Watch, apparently, had " deliberately misrepresented the basis for venue in this case." ECF No. 35 (Order) at 5. Judge Conway expressed her further displeasure with " Plaintiff's ...