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Coss v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 28, 2015

ADOLFO CORREA COSS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants

          For ADOLFO CORREA COSS, Marlene A Dougherty, also known as ADOLFO COSS, also known as ADOLFO C. CORREA, Plaintiff: Thomas K. Ragland, LEAD ATTORNEY, BENACH RAGLAND LLP, Washington, DC; Marlene A. Dougherty, PRO HAC VICE, LAW OFFICE OF MARLENE A. DOUGHERTY, Brownville, TX.

         For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., U.S. Attorney General, Defendants: Rhonda Lisa Campbell, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

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         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Adolfo Correa Coss is on a quest to find a notebook, which he believes contains detailed records of a confidential informant's drug transactions. The records, he believes, may help exonerate him from a 1991 conviction for drug trafficking. After learning that several notebooks were introduced as evidence at the informant's own trial, Coss submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for them.

         A year later, still empty-handed, Coss filed this suit. The Court, having already granted partial summary judgment for the Department of Justice, see Coss v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, No. 14-1326, 98 F.Supp.3d 28, 2015 WL 1700847 (D.D.C. Apr. 15, 2015), now addresses the sole remaining issue in the case: whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation has conducted an adequate search for the notebooks. Satisfied the Bureau has done so, the Court will grant its renewed Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Background

         Coss, a former United States permanent resident, was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver in 1991. See Compl., ¶ 4; People v. Coss, 246 Ill.App.3d 1041, 617 N.E.2d 138, 186 Ill.Dec. 899 (Ill.App.Ct. 1993). At trial and during his subsequent appeal, Coss maintained that the search-warrant application the police used to search his home, car, and business was based on false claims made by a confidential informant -- a man whom he later discovered was Guillermo Casas. See Coss, 2015 WL 1700847, at *1. After completing his sentence and returning to Mexico, Coss discovered that Casas, too, had been convicted of drug trafficking. See generally United States v. Nava-Salazar, 30 F.3d 788 (7th Cir. 1994). He learned that during Casas's trial, " the prosecution had admitted into evidence notebooks that Casas used to record his drug transactions." Coss, 2015 WL 1700847, at *1. Believing that the notebooks would shed light on his own lack of involvement in drug trafficking, Coss then set out to obtain a copy of them by

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filing FOIA requests with the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the FBI, and eventually the Executive Office of United States Attorneys. Id. at *1-2.

         Dissatisfied with the responses he received from the FBI and EOUSA, Coss filed this suit. His Amended Complaint makes clear that, although he initially requested Casas's " drug transaction notebooks" and " any other information [the agencies] may have relating to Mr. Adolfo Correa Coss," the sole documents he now seeks in this action are the notebooks. See Pl.'s MSJ, Exh. D (August 6, 2012, Request) at 8-9; Am. Compl., ¶ ¶ 6-7. Both parties then cross-moved for summary judgment, though EOUSA and the FBI made different arguments. Because EOUSA had explained in its affidavit that it " (1) identified where the relevant notebooks might be stored, (2) searched the nine boxes, and (3) certified that there were no records systems or locations not searched where the notebooks might have been found," the Court found the agency's search adequate and granted it summary judgment. See Coss, 2015 WL 1700847, at *5.

         The FBI, on the other hand, raised procedural hurdles in its portion of the motion. The Court rejected these, and, although skeptical that the Bureau would find the notebooks in its files, nonetheless directed the FBI to search for them. See Id. at *6.

         Having conducted that search, the FBI now files a renewed Motion for Summary Judgment. Attached to its Motion, the agency has submitted an affidavit from David Hardy, Section Chief of the Record/Information Dissemination Section of the FBI's Records Management Division. See Mot., Attach. 2 (Second Declaration of David M. Hardy), ¶ 1. This new declaration explains that, if the notebooks were in the FBI's possession, they would be found in the Bureau's Central Record System (CRS), the database containing all information compiled for law-enforcement purposes. Id., ¶ ¶ 6-8 & n.1 (citing Def.'s First MSJ, Attach. 5 (Declaration of David M. Hardy), ¶ 21(b)). The FBI used its Electronic Case File (ECF) system, one of three applications that organize information stored in the CRS, to conduct a full-text search of the system for " Guillermo Casas notebook" and " Casas notebook." See id., ¶ 7. Although " [t]his search would have identified any records in the entire CRS universe containing each of the searched terms," it did not return any positive results. Id.

         II. ...


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