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Miles v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 24, 2016

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.


          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         On March 15, 2015, plaintiff, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se, mailed the instant complaint to this Court, claiming that five components of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) had not responded to his February 10, 2015 request for records under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Compl. at 4-6. The components have since searched for records and notified plaintiff that no responsive records were found. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. [Dkt. # 18].

         On November 2, 2015, plaintiff was informed by the Court that his opposition to defendants' motion was due by December 14, 2015, and citing Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir 1992), the order warned of the consequences of a failure to respond [Dkt. # 19]. Plaintiff has neither filed a response nor requested additional time to respond. Since the proffered declarations establish that the components undertook reasonably adequate searches to locate responsive records, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 10, 2015, plaintiff mailed identical FOIA requests to the following individuals or entities within DOJ: (1) the Office of Legislative Affairs, (2) the Main FOIA/PA Referral Unit, (3) the FOIA/PA Administrator, (4) the Office of Solicitor General (OSG), and (5) the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Compl. ¶ 10 and Attachments.[1] DOJ “does not have a ‘FOIA/PA Administrator, '” Stmt. of Material Facts (“Facts”) ¶ 4, and the FOIA/PA Mail Referral Unit properly forwarded the request it received to BOP, id. ¶ 6. See id. ¶ 5 (The Mail Referral Unit receives requests that do not “specify which [DOJ] component . . . would have the records that the requester seeks” and directs such requests to the component likely to have responsive records.); see also Ex. B to Defendants' Motion, Declaration of Evie Sassok, [Dkt. 18-2], ¶ 2.

         Plaintiff requested:

Hard (paper) copies of all investigations, correspondence, records, reports, notes or files, regardless of the storage medium, regarding: H.R. 3190 and/or Public Law 80-772 between your agency and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons from January 2008 through July 2009.

         Facts ¶ 3. Defendants searched by terms likely to locate responsive records. See Facts ¶¶ 7, 15-18 (Legis. Affairs/Off. of Info. Policy); ¶¶ 19-24 (OSG); ¶¶ 25-31 (BOP). Thereafter, OIP provided a no-records response to plaintiff on March 19, 2015; BOP provided a no-records response on March 31, 2015; and OSG provided a no-records response on April 8, 2015.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In a FOIA action, the Court may award summary judgment solely on the information provided in affidavits or declarations that describe “the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith.” Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see also Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974). An inadequate search may constitute an improper withholding under the FOIA. See Maydak v. U.S. Dep't. of Justice, 254 F.Supp.2d 23, 44 (D.D.C. 2003). So, when no responsive records are located, the agency prevails on summary judgment if it shows that it made “a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.” Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants have satisfied their burden to come forward with evidence establishing that adequate searches were conducted by submitting the declarations of Vanessa R. Brinkman, Senior Counsel in the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy [Dkt. 18-1]; Valerie Hall Yancey, the Executive Officer and Freedom of Information Act Officer of the Office of Solicitor General [Dkt. 18-3]; Kimberly Blow, a Government Information Specialist for the Office of the General Counsel in the FOIA/PA section of the BOP [Dkt. 18-4]; Donna Hill, Executive Assistant for the Assistant Director of the Information, Policy, and Public Affairs Division of the BOP [Dkt. 18-5]; and Johnna M. Todd, another Government Information Specialist in the BOP FOIA/PA Section. [Dkt. 18-6].[2] Together, these declarants set forth facts sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the defendants made the necessary good faith effort, and that it was reasonable to expect that the methods utilized would have produced the requested information. Plaintiff has not in any way refuted defendants' declarations, and he has not contested the no-records responses.[3]

         Accordingly, the Court concludes that the agency has satisfied its FOIA obligations and is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] A ...

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