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

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

July 31, 2015

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

Page 267

For JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff: Michael Bekesha, JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Washington, DC.

For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: Sam M. Singer, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC.

Page 268

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

The plaintiff, Judicial Watch, Inc., brings suit against the defendant, the United States Department of Justice (" DOJ" ), pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552, alleging that the defendant violated the requirements of FOIA when it responded to the plaintiff's FOIA request. Specifically, the plaintiff challenges the defendant's invocation of FOIA Exemptions 5, 6, and 7 to withhold time records for a DOJ attorney. Now pending before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The defendant is actively investigating whether Internal Revenue Service (" IRS" ) employees engaged in potential criminal misconduct in connection with the IRS's handling of various organizations' applications for tax-exempt status. See Decl. of Nelson D. Hermilla (" Hermilla Decl." ) at ¶ 3, ECF No. 10-1. Attorneys from the DOJ's Civil Rights Division and the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division are conducting the investigation, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Treasury

Page 269

Inspector General for Tax Administration. Id. In response to Congressional inquiries, the defendant has revealed that Barbara Bosserman, a career senior legal counsel for the Civil Rights Division, is one of the attorneys involved in conducting the investigation.[1] Id. ¶ 4.

The plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the defendant, seeking " [a]ll Justice Department records from the Interactive Case Management System detailing the number of hours DOJ Attorney Barbara Bosserman expended on the investigation of the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles." Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. After failing to respond to the plaintiff's request, or advise the plaintiff of its ability to appeal such a non-response, the plaintiff initiated the instant suit. See id. ¶ ¶ 7-9.

After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendant initiated a search for documents responsive to the plaintiff's FOIA request. In order to comply with the FOIA request, the defendant queried the Interactive Case Management (" ICM" ) system for the time records of Ms. Bosserman. Hermilla Decl. ¶ 10. The ICM system " tracks the case-related activities" for the defendant's legal staff. Id. ¶ 8. The systems " is a tool for senior management to oversee the work of the Division and to report matter and case data at all levels of the Department to provide for accountability and analyze the Division's performance." Id. The ICM " capture[s] and report[s] to Division managers, the level of effort that attorneys and professionals dedicate to investigations and case-related tasks." Id. The ICM system records " the dates of activity, the type of work, the hours expended, a description of the activity, the case name, and the Department of Justice File number." Id. ¶ 9.

With respect to Ms. Bosserman, the ICM maintained records detailing " the specific dates [Ms. Bosserman] worked, the number of hours she worked on the investigation on a given date, and the type of activity she performed." Id. ¶ 10. In addition, certain entries contained " notes" describing the tasks performed by Ms. Bosserman, including " notes about locations visited, persons consulted, staff briefings, and other case developments." Id. ¶ 10. After identifying this information, and in response to the plaintiff's FOIA request, the defendant informed the plaintiff that it possessed documents responsive to its FOIA request but that the documents were exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). Id. ¶ 7. Now pending before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Congress enacted the FOIA as a means " to 'open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.'" Am. Civil Liberties Union v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 750 F.3d 927, 929, 409 U.S. App.D.C. 431 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Dep't of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976)). Disclosure is the " 'basic policy'" of the Act. Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Dep't of Justice (CREW), 746 F.3d 1082, 1088, 409 U.S. App.D.C. 113 (D.C. Cir. 2014) ...


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