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Francis v. Federal Hous. Fin. Agency

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 30, 2015

MICHAEL FRANCIS, et al., Plaintiffs,

Page 519

          MICHAEL FRANCIS, Plaintiff, Pro se, Indianapolis, IN.

         CARMEN JAY FRANCIS, Plaintiff, Pro se, Indianapolis, IN.


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         KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

         The Federal Housing Finance Agency (" FHFA" ) is an independent agency within the U.S. government that oversees the Federal National Mortgage Association (" Fannie Mae" ), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (also known as Freddie Mac), the Federal Home Loan Banks, and other components of the secondary mortgage market.[1] In 2014, plaintiffs Michael and Carmen Francis (" Plaintiffs" ) submitted to FHFA a request under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (" FOIA" ), seeking documents regarding the mortgage on their residential property located at 4904 Winston Drive, Indianapolis, IN. In particular, Plaintiffs sought documents that would show if Fannie Mae--which has been under FHFA conservatorship since 2008--had assigned Plaintiffs' mortgage and the associated note to another entity. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 5.) In its response to the FOIA request, FHFA indicated that the agency was unable to locate any responsive records. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 8-9.) Plaintiffs filed the instant lawsuit on September 29, 2014, claiming that FHFA is wrongfully withholding agency records in violation of the FOIA, and requesting an order compelling FHFA to search for, and produce, all non-exempt, responsive records, and to provide Plaintiffs with a Vaughn index of records that FHFA claims are subject to FOIA exemptions. ( See id. at 5.)

         Before this Court at present is FHFA's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 6 at 1-2).[2] The agency argues that it conducted an adequate search for records in response to Plaintiffs' FOIA request ( see Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 6 at 4-11 (" Def.'s Br." ), at 4), and with respect to the responsive documents in Fannie Mae's possession, FHFA argues that it does not control Fannie Mae's records and, therefore, cannot be faulted for not searching those records and producing that entity's documents. ( Id. at 9.) In response, Plaintiffs maintain that FHFA's search was inadequate because Plaintiffs have located documents on Fannie Mae's website and have received documents from Fannie Mae that they deem responsive to their FOIA request. (Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 10 (" Pls.' Br." ), at 6-7.)

         Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole, this Court concludes that FHFA conducted an adequate search that satisfies the agency's FOIA obligations. Consequently, Defendant's motion for summary judgment must be GRANTED. A separate order consistent with this memorandum opinion will follow.

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         FHFA was established as an independent agency of the federal government on July 30, 2008. (Decl. of Frank R. Wright, ECF No. 6-2 (" Wright Decl." ), ¶ 5.) FHFA ensures that the entities it regulates, including Fannie Mae, " operate in a financially safe and sound manner; remain adequately capitalized; and comply with their respective authorizing statutes, as well as all rules, regulations, guidelines and orders issued under law." ( Id. ¶ 6 (citing 12 U.S.C. § 4513(a).) Despite its role in overseeing the mortgage industry, FHFA has represented that it " does not, in the ordinary course of business, maintain any documents relating to individual mortgage loans." ( Id. ¶ 9.)

         FHFA is authorized to act as a conservator for, and to oversee, certain regulated entities, and when it operates in such a capacity, FHFA can take actions " (i) necessary to put the regulated entity in a sound and solvent condition; and (ii) appropriate to carry on the business of the regulated entity and preserve and conserve the assets and property of the regulated entity." 12 U.S.C. § 4617(b)(2)(D). FHFA placed Fannie Mae into conservatorship in 2008; however, Fannie Mae has continued its normal business operations since that time. (Wright Decl., ¶ 7.) Consequently, FHFA has not " incorporated [Fannie Mae's records] into any of [FHFA's] systems of records" and " does not consider the records of Fannie Mae . . . to be agency records for the purposes of FOIA[.]" ( Id. ¶ 10.) Thus, FHFA asserts that it " does not have the capability to conduct a search of [Fannie Mae's] records for responsive documents[.]" ( Id. )

         On August 1, 2014, Plaintiffs submitted a FOIA request to FHFA seeking " all documents containing information regarding property in interest located at 4904 Winston Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana and acquired by Accubanc on October 26, 1994[,]" including " [t]he name, loan number and all mortgage pool numbers, trust, and other pertinent information in Fannie Mae's possession including the legal entity name of unknown investors from November 1, 1994 to October 2, 2002." (Compl. ¶ 5.) On August 7, 2014, FHFA responded to the FOIA request, informing Plaintiffs that its search of agency files had not unearthed any responsive documents. ( Id. ¶ 8.) The agency also advised Plaintiffs " that FHFA's temporary role as conservator of [Fannie Mae] does not transform [Fannie Mae's] company records into 'agency records' subject to FOIA." ( Id. ) Plaintiffs appealed this determination, and asked that the agency answer the following question: " Did Fannie Mae assign the original note and mortgage of Francis' primary residence (subject to sell and proceeds going to the secure creditor Chase) to EMC Mortgage ...

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