United States District Court, D. Columbia
James B. Jett, Plaintiff,
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defendant
JAMES B. JETT, Plaintiff: Daniel J. Stotter, STOTTER &
ASSOCIATES LLC, Corvallis, OR.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendant: Benton Gregory
Peterson, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil
Division, Washington, DC.
OPINION AND ORDER
Mehta, United States District Judge.
2012, Plaintiff James B. Jett was a candidate in the race to
represent the 3rd Congressional District of Florida in the
United States House of Representatives. According to Jett,
intermediaries of his opponent, who was a sitting Member of
Congress, approached him during the campaign and offered him
various benefits in exchange for dropping out of the race.
Jett reported the offers to Defendant Federal Bureau of
Investigation (" FBI" ), which initiated an
investigation into Jett's allegations. As part of the
investigation, Jett agreed to record telephone conversations
with the intermediaries. Local FBI agents also instructed
Jett to wear a wire into a meeting with his opponent, the
intermediaries, and another, high-ranking, Member of the
United States House of Representatives. But, according to
Jett, officials at FBI headquarters called off the operation
to protect the high-ranking Member. Soon thereafter, the FBI
closed its investigation.
eventually lost the election. He then filed a Freedom of
Information Act (" FOIA" ) request with the FBI
seeking records related to the investigation. The FBI
produced 66 pages of investigative files, many of which
contained redactions. Jett now claims that the FBI (1) did
not conduct an adequate search in response to his request;
(2) improperly redacted records under FOIA Exemptions 6,
7(C), and 7(E); and (3) improperly withheld duplicate
the court are the parties' respective motions for summary
judgment. As explained below, both motions are granted in
part and denied in part.
The FBI's Investigation into Jett's
2012, Plaintiff ran as a candidate to represent the 3rd
Congressional District of Florida in the United States
Congress. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. K, ECF No. 10-2,
at 71. According to Jett, in February 2012, multiple
intermediaries (" Intermediaries" ) of one of his
opponents (" Opponent" ), an incumbent Member of
Congress, approached him with offers of future employment and
reimbursement of campaign expenditures if he agreed to drop
out of the race. Id. at 72. Jett reported these
offers to the FBI, whose field office in Jacksonville,
Florida, initiated an investigation. Id. at 71.
what occurred during the short-lived investigation is
revealed in the investigative files produced by the FBI to
Jett. On March 1, 2012, the Jacksonville Field Office's
agents asked Jett to make recorded phone calls with the
Intermediaries, which Jett agreed to do. Id. at
74-91, 97. Based on those recorded calls, the Field Office
agents sought approval from the Public Corruption Unit at FBI
headquarters to have Jett wear a wire during a face-to-face
meeting at which the Opponent, the Intermediaries, and a
high-ranking Member of the House of Representatives would be
present. Id. at 101. The Public Corruption Unit
agents, however, rejected the request. Instead, they advised
Jett that, before they would authorize him to wear a wire, he
would have to record another conversation with the
Intermediaries and declare " unequivocally" that he
was unwilling to drop out of the race. Id. When it
produced the investigative file to Jett, the FBI redacted
from it text that explained why the Public Corruption Unit
agents refused to allow Jett to wear a wire unless he first
made another recorded telephone call. Id.
investigation came to a swift end, largely because of
Jett's actions. Jett did not record another call, as the
Public Corruption Unit agents had requested. Id.
Instead, on March 2, 2012, Jett met face-to-face with the
Opponent and his Intermediaries, though the high-ranking
Member of the House of Representatives was not present.
Id. at 92. Inexplicably, Jett told the Opponent and
the Intermediaries that the FBI had approached him and had
inquired whether anyone had offered him anything of value to
drop out of the race. Id. He also told the Opponent
that he would not accept any of the Opponent's offers and
would not drop out of the race. Id. Unsurprisingly,
the Opponent denied that he had authorized anyone to make any
offer to Jett and even asked Jett whether he was wearing a
wire. Id. The meeting then abruptly concluded.
Id. Weeks later, on March 29, 2012, Jett publicly
accused his Opponent of attempting to bribe him. Id.
20, 2012, the FBI formally closed its investigation, citing
as its reasons Jett's disclosure of the FBI's
investigation to his Opponent and his public accusations of
bribery. Id. at 104.
Jett's FOIA Request
December 26, 2012, Jett submitted a FOIA request to the FBI,
seeking records pertaining to the FBI's investigation of
his Opponent. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A, at 25. In
his request, Plaintiff stated:
My name is 'James B. Jett' and I am requesting
'any' information you have available on an
investigation originating within the Jacksonville, Florida
Field Office regarding an incident involving [the
Intermediaries], [the Opponent] and [the high-ranking House
of Representatives Member].
Id. at 25. Jett specified that he sought:
FBI investigative reports, copies of telephonic tape
recordings made from my personal telephone at the request of
the FBI, interview reports of any individuals involved,
follow-up investigative reports by any FBI agents and/or
written transcriptions of 'any' recorded
conversations between myself and the suspects involved in
Id. Jett added: " Please search the FBI's
indices to the Central Records System for the information
responsive to this request." Id. The FBI
confirmed via email on December 26, 2012, that it had
received Plaintiff's request. Def.'s Statement of
Material Facts, ECF No. 10-1, ¶ 9.
January 14, 2013, the FBI sent two letters to Jett.
Id. ¶ ¶ 10-11. The first informed him that
his initial request lacked sufficient information to conduct
an accurate search within the FBI's Central Records
System (" CRS" ). Id. 10. The second
informed him that to obtain records about third parties he
needed to submit a Privacy Act waiver signed by those
individuals. Id. ¶ 11. Responding by letter on
January 23, 2013, Jett clarified the scope of his request and
reiterated his request for the records, arguing that the
third-party waivers were unnecessary because the public
interest outweighed concerns about the third-parties'
privacy. Id. ¶ 12; Def.'s Mot. for Summ.
J., Ex. E, at 43. He also renewed his request for "
copies of any electronically recorded conversations between
myself and the three suspects involved in this criminal
case." Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. E, at 43. On
February 4, 2013, the FBI informed Jett that it had received
his request and had begun to search for responsive records.
Id., Ex. F, at 46.
identify responsive material, an FBI FOIA analyst searched
CRS by using a " three-way phonetic breakdown" of
Jett's name. Decl. of David M. Hardy, ECF 10-2, ¶ 22
[hereinafter " Hardy Decl." ]. The analyst used no
other search terms and searched no database other than CRS.
The FBI's search turned up " one responsive FBI
Jacksonville main file and two sub-files that were opened to
investigate plaintiff's allegations." Id.
Ultimately, the FBI identified 66 pages that were responsive
to Jett's request. Id. ¶ ¶ 12, 25. Of
those 66 pages, one page was produced in full; 59 pages were
redacted in part; three pages were redacted in their
entirety; and three pages were withheld on the grounds that
they were duplicative. Id. ¶ 25. The FBI
invoked FOIA Exemptions 6, 7(C), and 7(E) to justify its
various redactions and withholdings. Id. ¶ 27.
exhausting his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this
action on February 21, 2014. Compl., ECF No. 1.