United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bryan Wilson submitted a Freedom of Information Act
("FOIA") request to the Department of Justice's
("DOJ's") Executive Office for United States
Attorneys ("EOUSA") to obtain specific types of
records related to his prior criminal conviction in the
District of Columbia. EOUSA released nine pages of responsive
records after Wilson filed his Complaint. The government has
since moved for summary judgment. Because the declaration
accompanying DOJ's motion leaves substantial doubt as to
the sufficiency of its search, the Court will grant in part
and deny in part the government's motion.
25, 2014, Wilson requested "a true copy of the original
indictment, complete with the signatures of the indicting
grand jury, " and "a copy of any requests for
subpoena, or affidavits in support of court order or warrant
for authorization to obtain cell site information" for a
specified telephone number. Def's Mot. Summ. J.
("MSJ") Ex. A, at 1. On June 12, 2014, EOUSA
informed Wilson that his request could not be processed
because it did not include a certification of his identity
and did not specify a particular U.S. Attorney's Office
in which the records might be found. Id. Ex. B, at
1. On December 8, 2014, Wilson followed up by requesting
"copies of any & all affidavits and motions to the
Superior Court for the District of Columbia and District of
Columbia Court of Appeals moving those Courts for an order
requiring Nextel Inc. to turn over cell site records"
for Wilson's cell phone to the U.S. Attorney for the
District of Columbia or the Metropolitan Police Department.
Id. Ex. C, at 1. EOUSA produced nine pages of
records to Wilson, but it also invoked FOIA Exemption 7(C), 5
U.S.C. § 552(b)(7), to justify redacting personal
identifying information for certain DOJ employees,
law-enforcement personnel, and third parties assisting with
the underlying investigation. This response to Wilson's
latter FOIA request is properly before the
government has moved for summary judgment, claiming that no
genuine dispute exists as to the adequacy of its search and
the propriety of its limited withholdings. Wilson, proceeding
pro se, contests that the government has
demonstrated the sufficiency of its search beyond material
Standard of Review
enacted FOIA "to pierce the veil of administrative
secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public
scrutiny." ACLU v. U.S. Dep't of Justice,
655 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Dep't of the
Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361 (1976)). The
statute imposes a general obligation on federal agencies to
provide records to the public. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a).
Although FOIA exempts certain categories of documents from
this general obligation to disclose, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b),
the statute exists "to ensure an informed citizenry,
vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to
check against corruption and to hold the governors
accountable to the governed, " NLRB v. Robbins Tire
& Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978). Thus, FOIA
exemptions are "explicitly made exclusive, "
Milner v. U.S. Dep't of Navy, 562 U.S. 562, 565
(2011) (quoting EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79
(1973)), and they "must be 'narrowly construed,
'" id (citing FBI v. Abramson, 456 U.S.
615, 630 (1982)).
cases are typically decided on motions for summary judgment.
Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521,
527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In deciding such a motion, a court must
assume the truth of the non-movant's evidence and draw
all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
(1986). In order to meet its FOIA obligations and prevail on
a motion for summary judgment, "the government must
demonstrate that it conducted an adequate search and produced
all responsive records not properly withheld under FOIA's
nine statutory exemptions." Sack v. CIA, 49
F.Supp. 3d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 2014).
agency cannot satisfy this burden with affidavits that are
vague or conclusory, or that merely parrot the statutory
standard. Consumer Fed'n of Am. v. U.S. Dep't of
Agric, 455 F.3d 283, 287 (D.C. Cir. 2006). When an
agency's search is questioned, it must show "beyond
material doubt that its search was reasonably calculated to
uncover all relevant documents." Ancient Coin
Collectors Guild v. U.S. Dep't of State, 641 F.3d
504, 514 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Valencia-Lucena v.
U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999))
(internal quotation marks omitted). On summary judgment, a
court may rely on a "reasonably detailed"
declaration that sets forth "the search terms and the
type of search performed, and averring that all files likely
to contain responsive material. . . were searched."
Id. (quoting Oglesby v. U.S. Pep't of the
Army. 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990)) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Such a declaration is
"accorded a presumption of good faith, which cannot be
rebutted by purely speculative claims about the existence and
discoverability of other documents." SafeCard
Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir.
1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692
F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). But if the record "leaves substantial doubt as
to the sufficiency of the search, summary judgment for the
agency is not proper." Truitt v. U.S. Dep't of
State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990).
Partial Withholdings Based on Exemption 7(C)
government has cited FOIA Exemption 7(C) as authority for
redacting from the documents it produced to Wilson personal
identifying information for certain DOJ employees,
law-enforcement personnel, and third parties. Under that
exemption, FOIA's general obligations do not apply to
"records or information compiled for law enforcement
purposes, " but only insofar as such production could-as
relevant here-"reasonably be expected to constitute an
unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Id.
§ 552(b)(7)(C). The government contends that identifying
the individuals who helped investigate and prosecute Wilson
"would shed no light on [DOJ's] performance of [its]
statutory duties." MS J 7. Wilson does not challenge
these minimal withholdings, and the Court finds them to be
justified for the reason the government states. See
Schrecker v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 349 F.3d 657,
661 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing cases that have
"consistently supported nondisclosure of names or other
information identifying [third-party] individuals appearing
in law enforcement records, including investigators,
suspects, witnesses, and informants"). Accordingly, the
Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the government
on this aspect of the case.
The Adequacy of DOJ's Search
attempted to establish the adequacy of its search through the
declaration of David Luczynski, Attorney Advisor for EOUSA.
Mr. Luczynski did not personally search for records
responsive to Wilson's FOIA request; he instead relied on
a liaison in the appropriate U.S. ...