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Reedom v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 27, 2016



          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, demanding the disclosure of information from three federal government entities: the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), Rural Development, a component of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USD A"), and the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), a component of the United States Department of the Treasury ("Treasury"). See generally Compl. ¶¶ 6-22.

         A. Social Security Administration

         Plaintiff alleges that, "[t]o date, [SSA] has not provided the records [he] requested ... in his FOIA request, notwithstanding the FOIA's requirement of an agency response within twenty (20) working days." Compl. ¶ 7. His complaint does not identify a particular FOIA request, however. "Given the amount of records at SSA, it is vital for the agency to receive a properly filed access request with as much information as possible to allow SSA to search for specific records." Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mem."), Decl. of Mary Ann Zimmerman ("Zimmerman Decl.") ¶ 5.

         Staff of the SSA's Office of Privacy and Disclosure ("OPD") perform searches for records responsive to FOIA requests "that reasonably describe[] the records requested." Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 2. In addition, OPD staff "respond[] to the requesters] with . . . disclosable records" if any are located and respond to those requesters who appeal OPD's initial response to their requests. Id. SSA's declarant explains that, because Plaintiffs complaint "does not identify a specific request, OPD staff searched for all of Plaintiff s requests." Id. ¶ 7 n.1.

         Plaintiffs August 1, 2013 request (AL1997) was for his "earnings records ... from 1965 [to] 2012, " including "his earnings records from Lincoln University from 1978 [to] 1980 and Grambling State University from 1975 [to] 1976, " and "his corrected earnings from 1975 [to] 2012." Id., Ex. A-1. SSA "responded by letter dated August 6, 2013 stating that it could not release the earnings information without proper authorization, " and provided a copy of Form SSA-7050-F4, Request for Social Security Earnings Information, for Plaintiff to complete and return. Id. ¶ 8; see id., Ex. A-l. Plaintiff neither responded to SSA's letter nor filed an administrative appeal of this decision. Id. ¶ 8.

         Plaintiff asked SSA to notify him if fees associated with the response to his second FOIA request (AM2699) exceeded $25. Id., Ex. A-2. "SSA responded by letter dated June 4, 2014 stating that the fee for the requested records was $102." Id. ¶ 9. It supplied Plaintiff with a copy of Form SSA-7050-F4 and the address to which he should return the completed form. Id. Similarly, at Plaintiffs request, "SSA responded by letter dated June 5, 2014 [to Plaintiffs third request for information (AM2700)] and provided the cost for [the information he sought along with] a copy of Form SSA-7050-F4 [and] the address to send the form for processing." Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff did not respond to these letters, and he filed no administrative appeal of these initial decisions. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

         The fifth FOIA request (AM4326), dated May 6, 2014, included a request for a fee waiver. Id. ¶ 11; see id., Ex. A-4. "SSA responded by letter dated August 14, 2014, and explained that [Plaintiff] did not adequately identify the records or ... submit sufficient information in order for OPD to perform a search." Id. ¶ 11. It instructed Plaintiff to contact his local Social Security office if he sought information about himself, and to submit a Form SSA-7050-F4 if he sought earnings information. Id. In a separate letter, SSA advised Plaintiff that it had denied his fee waiver request. Id. Although both letters advised Plaintiff of the process for appealing the decisions, Plaintiff neither appealed nor responded in any other way. Id.

         Plaintiffs June 17, 2014 request (AM4400) mentioned earnings records and lawsuits and discrimination complaints against the SSA. See id., Ex. A-5. "SSA responded with a letter dated November 21, 2014." Id. ¶ 12. It referred Plaintiff to its earlier responses to prior requests for earnings records (i.e., submission of Form SSA-7050-F4), and "stated it could not conduct a search [for the other records he sought] because the request failed to reasonably describe" them. Id. This letter, too, advised Plaintiff of the procedures for pursuing an administrative appeal, yet Plaintiff neither responded to the letter nor filed an appeal. Id.

         By "the time [Plaintiff] filed [this] lawsuit, [OPD] had received five FOIA requests from [Plaintiff and had] already responded to each ... request[]." Id. ¶ 7; see Id. ¶¶ 8-12. SSA had no record of an administrative appeal with respect to any of its responses. Id. ¶¶ 8- 12. In addition, SSA's Division of Earnings Records Operations responded to Plaintiffs 2013 request for earnings information from 1981 through 2003 by sending him "a certified earnings record on or about January 11, 2014 by mail[.]" Id. ¶ 14.

         B. Rural Development

         Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the Rural Development's State Director in ...

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