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Fowlkes v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 21, 2015

SEAN DARNELL FOWLKES, Plaintiff,
v.
BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES, et al., Defendants

Page 288

          SEAN DARNELL FOWLKES, Plaintiff, Pro se, BALTIMORE, MD.

         For BUREAU OF ATF, EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Defendants: Rafique Omar Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC; Carl Ezekiel Ross, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

Page 289

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Second Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking records maintained by three components of the United States Department of Justice: the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (" EOUSA" ), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (" BATFE" ), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (" DEA" ). See generally Am. Compl. for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (" Am. Compl." ) at 2-8. The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment,[2] and remaining for resolution are five issues: (1) whether EOUSA conducted a reasonable search for records responsive to Request No. 12-1689; (2) whether BATFE justified its decision to withhold firearms trace information under Exemption 3; (3) whether EOUSA justified its decision to withhold the name of a judge; (4) whether BATFE justified its decision to withhold information under Exemption 7(E); and (5) whether defendants have released all reasonably segregable information. See Fowlkes v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, 67 F.Supp.3d 290, 307 (D.D.C. 2014).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

         " FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment." Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted). Courts will grant summary judgment to an agency as the movant if it shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and if the agency is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). More specifically, in a FOIA action to compel production of agency records, the agency " is entitled to summary judgment if no material facts are in dispute and if it demonstrates 'that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced . . . or is wholly exempt from the [FOIA's] inspection requirements.'" Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833, 347 U.S.App.D.C. 235 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352, 197 U.S.App.D.C. 25 (D.C. Cir. 1978)).

Page 290

         B. The EOUSA's Search for Records Responsive to FOIA No. 12-1689

         " The adequacy of an agency's search is measured by a standard of reasonableness and is dependent upon the circumstances of the case." Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351, 227 U.S.App.D.C. 253 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). An agency " fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Dep't of State, 641 F.3d 504, 514, 395 U.S.App.D.C. 138 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A search need not be exhaustive. See Miller v. U.S. Dep't of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1383 (8th Cir. 1995). As long as the agency conducts a reasonable search, it fulfills its obligations under the FOIA even if the search yields no responsive records. See Iturralde v. Comptroller of the Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315, 354 U.S.App.D.C. 230 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (stating that " the failure of an agency to turn up one specific document in its search does not alone render a search inadequate" ).

         To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail the scope and method of its search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126, 221 U.S.App.D.C. 347 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance with the FOIA. Id. at 127. If, on the other hand, the record " leaves substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of the search, [then] summary judgment for the agency is not proper." Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542, 283 U.S.App.D.C. 86 (D.C. Cir. 1990); see also Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 326, 336 U.S.App.D.C. 386 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

         In relevant part, Request No. 12-1689 stated:

I'm requesting a copy of the indictment and or complaint and arrest warrant with attached affidavits filed on May 5, 2009 as to case 1:09-CR-00244-CCB in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland[,] Northern Division[, including] but not limited to those items. Please confirm or deny the existence of those items named.

Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., (" Defs.' First Mem." ), Decl. of David Luczynski (" First Luczynski Decl." ), Ex. A (Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Request dated March 30, 2012).

         EOUSA's declarant explains that a Paralegal Specialist at the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland (" USAO/DMD" ) searched the office's files " for the indictment and/or complaint and arrest warrant with attachments in Criminal No. CCB-09-0244[.]" Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.' Second Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (" Defs' 2d Renewed Mem." ), Ex. 1 (Decl. of David Luczynski Addressing Issues Raised in Court's Memorandum Opinion) (" 4th Luczynski Decl." ), Attach. A (" Hart Decl." ) ¶ 4. She used " [t]he LIONS system, . . . the computer system used by United States Attorney's Offices to track cases and retrieve files pertaining to cases and investigations." Hart Decl. ¶ 6. Through LIONS, she explains, the user accesses databases from which to " retrieve information based on a defendant's name, the USAO number (United States Attorney's Office's internal administrative number), the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case, and the district court case ...


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