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Long v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 14, 2015

Susan B. Long, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMIT P. MEHTA, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Susan B. Long and David Burnham bring this suit under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). Between October 13, 2010, and February 26, 2013, Plaintiffs submitted seven FOIA requests to two federal agencies, Defendant Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Defendant Customs and Border Patrol. They sought metadata and database schema from databases used by both agencies, as well as "snapshots" of data contained within one of the databases. Defendants produced some documents in response. But they withheld a host of others, relying on FOIA Exemptions 3 and 7 and claiming that producing certain responsive materials would be overly burdensome. Plaintiffs brought this suit claiming that Defendants violated FOIA by failing to provide them with all materials responsive to their requests.

Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the record evidence, the court grants in part and denies in part the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Susan B. Long and David Burnham are Co-Directors of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse ("TRAC"), "a research center established by Syracuse University that gathers information about the functioning of federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies, analyzes the data, and publishes reports." See Pls.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Pls.' Mot.], Decl. of Susan B. Long, ECF No. 18-2 [hereinafter Long Decl.], ¶ 2. TRAC's primary purpose is "to provide comprehensive information about the staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government." Id. Plaintiffs submitted seven FOIA requests either to Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), Customs and Border Patrol ("CBP"), or both, which are described in further detail below.

A. Requests for EID and IIDS Metadata and Database Schema

1. FOIA Request I

By letter dated October 13, 2010, Plaintiffs submitted a FOIA request to ICE for documentation related to the Enforcement Integrated Database ("EID"). See Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Request I]. The EID is a "shared common database repository for all records created, updated, and accessed by a number of [Department of Homeland Security ("DHS")] law enforcement and homeland security software applications." Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 17 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot.], Decl. of Karolyn Miller, ECF No. 17-1 [hereinafter Miller Decl.], ¶ 12. EID "captures and maintains information related to the investigation, arrest, booking, detention, and removal of persons encountered during immigration and criminal law enforcement investigations and operations conducted by [ICE], [CBP], and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services." Id. EID contains an array of personally identifiable information about persons detained for violating the Immigration and Nationality Act, including names, aliases, dates of birth, telephone numbers, addresses, Alien Registration Numbers, Social Security Numbers, passport numbers, and employment, educational, immigration, and criminal histories. Id. ICE uses the EID database to manage cases from the time of an undocumented immigrant's detention through the person's final case disposition. Defs.' Mot., Decl. of Fernando Pineiro, ECF No. 17-2 [hereinafter Pineiro Decl.], ¶ 47. Plaintiffs' first FOIA request sought:

(1) a copy of the records identifying each and every database table in the EID and describing all fields of information that are stored in each of these tables... (2) a copy of records defining each code used in recording data contained [in] the EID. This is a request for the contents of specific auxiliary tables-often referred to as code or lookup tables-within the database itself where this information is stored... (3) a copy of the EID's database schema... [and] (4) records that identify the [Database Management Software ("DBMS")] (e.g., Oracle, DB2, Sybase, SQL Server, etc.) including [the] Version No. used for the EID.

FOIA Request I at 1. In other words, Plaintiffs "sought a complete set of documentation on the [EID]." Pineiro Decl. ¶ 6 (internal quotation marks omitted).

2. FOIA Request II

On October 18, 2010, Plaintiffs submitted a second FOIA request to ICE for "a complete set of documentation on the ICE Integrated Decision Support... Database, '" known as "IIDS." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 8, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Request II], at 1. IIDS is "a subset of the EID database repository... [that] provides a continuously updated snapshot of selected EID data." Miller Decl. ¶ 13. IIDS' "intended purpose... is... to query EID data for operational or executive reporting purposes and is typically used to generate management reports and statistics from EID data." Id. "Specifically, IIDS contains biographic information, information about encounters between agents/officers and subjects, and apprehension and detention information about all persons in EID." Id. Plaintiffs' second FOIA request sought the same information regarding the IIDS database that the first request sought regarding the EID database. See FOIA Request II at 1.

In summary, FOIA Requests I and II sought documents that disclose the fields, variables, codes, and structures of the EID and IIDS databases. It appears that TRAC, as part of its goal to provide the public with information about law enforcement agencies, filed the requests in an attempt to learn what types of data ICE and CBP collect and rely upon to perform their immigration enforcement duties.

3. Government Response to FOIA Requests I and II

In response to FOIA Requests I and II, ICE conducted a search of the System Lifecycle Management repository database ("SLM"), which is "the authoritative place for technical documents associated with EID and IIDS." Defs.' Mot., Decl. of Jeff Wilson, ECF No. 17-6 [hereinafter Wilson Decl.], at 5. SLM documents are divided into sections and, after searching the EID and IIDS sections of the repository, ICE personnel reviewed responsive documents. Id. The agency then released 97 responsive pages, with redactions, and withheld the remaining responsive documents. Pineiro Decl. ¶ 19. CBP did not search its records in response to FOIA Requests I and II. See Pls.' Mot. at 10; Defs.' Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. & Reply, ECF No. 25 [hereinafter Defs.' Opp'n & Reply], at 18.

B. Requests for Snapshots

1. FOIA Requests for Snapshots and Information About Snapshots

Plaintiffs also submitted FOIA requests to both ICE and CBP for "snapshots" of data from the EID database. As noted, the EID database includes "information related to the investigation, arrest, booking, detention, and removal of persons." Miller Decl. ¶ 12. ICE and CBP maintain several other databases, much like the IIDS database, that contain "subsets of EID data" and "provide... continuously updated snapshot[s] of selected EID data." Pls.' Mot., Decl. of Jehan A. Patterson, ECF No. 18-1 [hereinafter Patterson Decl.], Ex. A at 6. These snapshots allow CBP and ICE "to query EID data for operational or executive reporting purposes." Id. Collectively, the snapshots allow ICE to search all of the information contained within the EID database at a particular point in time. Wilson Decl. at 4. As described below, Plaintiffs' additional FOIA requests sought copies of certain snapshots.

On September 21, 2012, Plaintiffs submitted two FOIA requests to ICE. One sought information about snapshots. It requested "records identifying any extracts and snapshots' prepared from the [EID] over the last 12 months, along with records relating to the frequency with which such extracts and snapshots have been prepared, who was responsible for preparing any snapshot or extract, the recipient(s) of the extracts/snapshots, as well as the EID system time required in their preparation." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 16, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Request III], at 1. The other request sought a copy of a snapshot itself, in particular, a "current snapshot' of ENFORCE prepared for [IIDS] system." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 19, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Request IV], at 1. ENFORCE consists of several "applications" that allow "DHS personnel [to] create, modify, and access the data stored in the EID's central data repository." Patterson Decl., Ex. A at 2.

On February 25, 2013, Plaintiffs submitted a fifth FOIA request, this time to CBP, which sought a "current snapshot' of [the] EID database prepared for [the] CBP data warehouse." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 21, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Request V], at 1. The next day, Plaintiffs submitted two final FOIA requests. The first was sent to ICE and sought "a current snapshot' of [the] EID database prepared for the EARM Data Mart." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 23, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Requests VI], at 1. The second, which was sent to both ICE and CBP, sought "the current snapshot' of [the] EID database prepared for EID Data Mart." Defs.' Mot., Ex. 23, ECF No. 17-3 [hereinafter FOIA Requests VII], at 1. The EARM Datamart and the EID Datamart, like the IIDS database, contain subsets of data from EID and are "typically used to generate management reports and statistics from EID data." Patterson Decl., Ex. A at 6. Specifically, the EARM Datamart, which is used to track cases of undocumented immigrants who are in the removal process, Pineiro Decl. ¶ 47, contains a host of information about immigration court proceedings and the detention statuses and locations of persons subject to such proceedings, Patterson Decl., Ex. A at 7. And the EID Datamart contains data on, among other things, arrests and removal processing, including personal information about persons subject to those proceedings. Id. at 7.

2. Government Response to FOIA Requests III through VII

In response to FOIA Request III, ICE disclosed nine pages of records that it asserted were responsive to the request, with redactions pursuant to FOIA exemptions 6, 7(C), and 7(E). Pineiro Decl. ¶ 27. Neither ICE nor CBP, however, produced copies of the snapshots Plaintiffs requested in FOIA Requests IV through VII.

3. Summary of FOIA Requests

In summary, TRAC submitted seven FOIA requests. Five were directed to ICE only, together requesting EID and IIDS metadata and database schema, as well as snapshots of data from the EID database and information about those snapshots. See FOIA Requests I, II, III, IV, and VI. One was directed to CBP only, requesting a snapshot of certain EID data. See FOIA Request V. And one was directed to both ICE and CBP, again seeking from each agency a snapshot of certain EID data. See FOIA Request VII.

C. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed this action on January 29, 2014, alleging that Defendants' searches were inadequate and that Defendants improperly withheld responsive materials under FOIA. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. On October 9, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgement. See generally Defs.' Mot. In it, Defendants argued that their search was adequate as they conducted searches in the SLM repository for documents responsive to Plaintiffs' request for the EID and IIDS metadata and database schema, and that they properly withheld responsive documents pursuant to Exemptions 3, 7(A), and 7(E). Id. at 10-11, 15-26. With regard to the snapshots, Defendants asserted that they were unable to produce any responsive documents, because "the snapshots Plaintiffs requested were not retained for the date ranges of the subject FOIA requests, ... the requested information could not be produced with the technology currently in the Agency's possession, and... even if the information could be produced, Defendants were not capable of redacting the information." Id. at 11-12.

On November 13, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. See generally Pls.' Mot. In the Motion, Plaintiffs argued that Defendants' claimed FOIA exemptions are inapplicable. Id. at 14-26. They also disputed the assertion that Defendants are unable to produce the requested snapshots. Id. at 27-30. Plaintiffs further argued that Defendants' search was inadequate because Defendants: (1) did not sufficiently respond to FOIA Request III;

(2) failed to search the EID and IIDS databases themselves for documents pertaining to the metadata and database schema of each system; and (3) ...


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