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Sea Shepherd Conservation Society v. Internal Revenue Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 20, 2016

SEA SHEPHERD CONSERVATION SOCIETY, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (“Sea Shepherd”) brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) against defendant the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), seeking all records related to itself in IRS files dated January 1, 2006 to May 13, 2013. Compl. [Dkt # 1]. On March 31, 2015, the Court remanded the matter to the IRS so that the agency could conduct additional searches, provide more detailed descriptions of its searches and more detailed justifications of its withholdings, and release any non-exempt portions of responsive records to plaintiff. Sea Shepherd Conservation Soc'y v. IRS, 89 F.Supp.3d 81 (D.D.C. 2015).

         With that process now complete, the parties have again cross-moved for summary judgment, and these pleadings also address the adequacy of the agency's searches and the justifications for its withholdings. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt # 35] (“Def.'s Mot.”); Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt # 35-1] (“Def.'s Mem.”); Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 37] (“Pl.'s Cross-Mot.”); Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. and in Supp. of Pl.'s Cross-Mot. [Dkt. # 37-1] (“Pl.'s Cross-Mem.”). Because the Court finds once again that one of defendant's searches was inadequate, it will grant plaintiff's motion in part, and remand the matter to the agency for a second time, so that the agency can renew its searches of the Exempt Organizations Examinations function. But because the agency adequately searched for records in the National & Area Chief Counsel Office of TEGE, the Exempt Organizations Rulings & Agreements function, the Communications & Liaison Office, and the Whistleblower Office, the Court will grant defendant's motion in part as well. In addition, the Court finds that defendant's invocation of Exemptions 3 and 7(D) is justified, and it will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment in part on those issues. But the Court finds that the agency's Glomar response with regard to records from the Whistleblower office is not justified, based on the unique circumstances of this case. So the Court will grant plaintiff's motion in part on that issue, as well.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Sea Shepherd's FOIA Request, IRS's First Search, and the Court's Remand

         Sea Shepherd is a 501(c)(3) non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of oceanic habitats and wildlife. Sea Shepherd, 89 F.Supp.3d at 86.[1] It filed a FOIA request on May 13, 2013, seeking (1) “any and all documents, from January 1, 2006, through the date of this request, related to Sea Shepherd, ” (2) “any and all documents related to the examination of Sea Shepherd commenced by the Internal Revenue Service on or about January 4, 2013, ” (3) “any and all documents relating to any complaint . . . regarding Sea Shepherd's activities or qualifications for tax-exempt status after January 1, 2006, ” and (4) “any and all documents related to any request from any person that the Internal Revenue Service examine Sea Shepherd.” Ex. A to Compl. [Dkt. # 1] at 1. Plaintiff specifically requested that the IRS search the following locations: the files of Peter Huang, the agent who handled the examination of plaintiff's tax-exempt status; the National and Area Chief Counsel Offices of the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities (“TEGE”) function of the IRS; the office of the Director of Exempt Organizations Examinations in Dallas, Texas; and the office of Exempt Organizations Ruling and Agreements in the TEGE National Office. Id.

         When defendant did not timely respond to the FOIA request, Compl. ¶¶ 7-9, Sea Shepherd filed suit. Compl. After the lawsuit had been commenced, the IRS conducted a search and produced more than 12, 000 pages of responsive, non-exempt records. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts [Dkt. # 35-2] (“Def.'s SOF”) ¶ 3; see Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues in Opp. to Def.'s SOF [Dkt. # 37-2, 38-2] (“Pl.'s SOF”) ¶ 3.

         The IRS moved for summary judgment on May 20, 2014, arguing both that its search was adequate, and that its production included all of the responsive and non-exempt documents. Def.'s SOF ¶ 4; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 4. On March 31, 2015, the Court denied the IRS's motion for summary judgment and remanded the matter to the agency. Sea Shepherd, 89 F.Supp.3d at 89-103. The Court held that certain of defendant's declarations were inadequate:

First, none of the declarations adequately addresses plaintiff's request for “any and all documents” related to it . . . or even indicates that a search for “any and all documents” related to plaintiff was actually conducted. Second, none of the declarations describes defendant's overall “rationale for searching certain locations and not others.” And third, the individual declarations suffer from numerous other deficiencies . . . .

Id. at 91 (internal citations omitted). The Court then “turn[ed] to those records that the IRS did identify, ” and found that the claimed exemptions - exemptions 6 and 7 - were not justified. Id. at 94-98. The Court also found that the IRS's reliance on exemption 3 was not uniformly justified. Id. at 98-102. But the Court did find many of the agency's exemption 5 withholdings justified. Id. at 102-03. The Court instructed the IRS to “conduct a further search for responsive records, to provide a more detailed justification for the adequacy of its search and for any withholdings of responsive material, and to release any reasonably segregable non-exempt material to [Sea Shepherd] consistent with the FOIA statute and this opinion.” Id. at 104.

         II. Procedural History

         On September 15, 2015, after concluding its supplemental search and releasing additional materials to Sea Shepherd, the IRS filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, along with a statement of facts, an updated Vaughn Index, and several declarations. Def.'s Mot.; Def.'s Mem.; Def.'s SOF; Vaughn Index [Dkt. # 35-5]; 3d Decl. of A.M. Gulas, Ex. 3 to Def.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 35-3] (“3d Gulas Decl.”); 2d Decl. of Michael Franklin [Dkt. # 35-4] (“2d Franklin Decl.”); Decl. of Nia Dowdy [Dkt. # 35-6] (“Dowdy Decl.”); Decl. of Jon Waddell [Dkt. # 35-7] (“Waddell Decl.”); Decl. of Margaret Von Lienen [Dkt. # 35-8] (“Von Lienen Decl.”); Decl. of Dean Patterson [Dkt. # 35-9] (“Patterson Decl.”); Decl. of Cindy Stuart [Dkt. # 35-10] (“Stuart Decl.”). Plaintiff then filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Pl.'s Cross-Mot.; Pl.'s Cross-Mem. It also attached a “Statement of Genuine Issues in Opposition to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, ” Pl.'s SOF, its own Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Pl.'s Cross-Mot. [Dkt. # 37-3, 38-3] (“Pl.'s Cross-SOF”), and two supporting declarations. Decl. of Ann E. Prezyna [Dkt. # 37-4]; 2d Decl. of Christopher S. Rizek [Dkt. # 37-5].

         On December 4, 2015, defendant filed a reply in support of its motion and cross-opposition to plaintiff's motion. Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. & Opp. to Pl.'s Cross-Mot. [Dkt. # 42, 43] (“Def.'s Reply”), along with a response to plaintiff's statement of facts and two additional declarations. And on January 4, 2016, Sea Shepherd filed a cross-reply in support of its motion. Pl.'s Reply Mem. in Supp. of its Cross-Mot. [Dkt. # 45] (“Pl.'s Cross-Reply”).[2] The Court also granted the IRS's requests, over plaintiff's objections, to submit declarations ex parte and in camera in support of their motion and their cross-opposition, Min. Order (Sept. 18, 2015); Min. Order (Dec. 7, 2015). On August 8, 2016, the Court ordered the agency to provide another ex parte and in camera declaration. Min. Order (Aug. 8, 2016). The Court ultimately ordered defendant to file part of the in camera submission on the public docket, Min. Order (Aug. 25, 2016), and defendant submitted a redacted version of the August 15, 2016. See Redacted Decl. of Michael Franklin [Dkt. # 47] (“Redacted Franklin Decl.”).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In a FOIA case, the district court reviews the agency's decisions de novo and “the burden is on the agency to sustain its action.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). “FOIA cases are typically and appropriately decided on motions for summary judgment.” Moore v. Bush, 601 F.Supp.2d 6, 12 (D.D.C. 2009).

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if 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). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party; a fact is “material” only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Id. at 248; Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In assessing a party's motion, the court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.'” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (alterations omitted), quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam).

         “The rule governing cross-motions for summary judgment . . . is that neither party waives the right to a full trial on the merits by filing its own motion; each side concedes that no material facts are at issue only for the purposes of its own motion.” Sherwood v. Wash. Post, 871 F.2d 1144, 1147 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 1989), quoting McKenzie v. Sawyer, 684 F.2d 62, 68 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In assessing each party's motion, “[a]ll underlying facts and inferences are analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” N.S. ex rel. Stein v. District of Columbia, 709 F.Supp.2d 57, 65 (D.D.C. 2010), citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. In a FOIA action, where a plaintiff has neither alleged nor provided evidence that an agency acted in bad faith, “a court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the agency in declarations.” Moore, 601 F.Supp.2d at 12.

         ANALYSIS

         FOIA requires the release of government records upon request. Its purpose is “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). At the same time, Congress recognized “that legitimate governmental and private interests could be harmed by release of certain types of information and provided nine specific exemptions under which disclosure could be refused.” FBI v. Abramson, 456 U.S. 615, 621 (1982); see also Ctr. for Nat'l Sec. Studies v. DOJ, 331 F.3d 918, 925 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (“FOIA represents a balance struck by Congress between the public's right to know and the government's legitimate interest in keeping certain information confidential”), citing John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 152 (1989). The Supreme Court has instructed that “FOIA exemptions are to be narrowly construed.” Abramson, 456 U.S. at 630.

         To prevail in a FOIA action, an agency must first demonstrate that it has 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). Second, the agency must show that “materials that are withheld . . . fall within a FOIA statutory exemption.” Leadership Conference on Civil Rights v. Gonzales, 404 F.Supp.2d 246, 252 (D.D.C. 2005). “[W]hen an agency seeks to withhold information, it must provide a ‘relatively detailed justification'” for the withholding, Morley v. CIA, 508 F.3d 1108, 1122 (D.C. Cir. 2007), quoting King v. DOJ, 830 F.2d 210, 219 (D.C. Cir. 1987), through a Vaughn Index, an affidavit, or by other means. Gallant v. NLRB, 26 F.3d 168, 172-73 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         After asserting and explaining its exemptions, an agency must release “[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record, ” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), unless the non-exempt portions are “inextricably intertwined with exempt portions” of the record. Mead Data Cent., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 260 (D.C. Cir. 1977); see also Johnson v. EOUSA, 310 F.3d 771, 776 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “In order to demonstrate that all reasonably segregable material has been released, the agency must provide a ‘detailed justification' for its non-segregability, ” although “the agency is not required to provide so much detail that the exempt material would effectively be disclosed.” Johnson, 310 F.3d at 776, quoting Mead Data, 566 F.2d at 261. “[A] district court has the obligation to consider the segregability issue sua sponte, regardless of whether it has been raised by the parties.” Id., citing Trans-Pacific Policing Agreement v. U.S. Customs Serv., 177 F.3d 1022, 1028 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

         Because a court must determine de novo whether an agency properly withheld information, a court may examine the withheld records in camera. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); Carter v. U.S. Dep't of Commerce, 830 F.2d 388, 393 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (“[W]hen the requested documents ‘are few in number and of short length, ' in camera review may save time and money.”), quoting Allen v. CIA, 636 F.2d 1287, 1298 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

         I. Defendant has failed to adequately justify one of its renewed searches.

         A. Legal Standard

         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); see also Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68; Weisberg v. DOJ, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983).

         To demonstrate that it has performed an adequate search for documents responsive to a FOIA request, an agency must submit a reasonably detailed affidavit describing the search. Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68; see also Defs. of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 91 (D.D.C. 2009). A declaration is “reasonably detailed” if it “set[s] forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and aver[s] that all files likely to contain responsive materials (if such records exist) were searched.” Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68; see also Defs. of Wildlife, 623 F.Supp.2d at 92.

         A declaration, therefore, must at least include the agency's “rationale for searching certain locations and not others.” Defs. of Wildlife, 623 F.Supp.2d at 92; see also Nat'l Sec. Counselors v. CIA, 849 F.Supp.2d 6, 11 (D.D.C. 2012) (finding affidavit sufficient where it “outline[d] with reasonable detail the CIA's decision to limit the search” to a particular area); Hodge v. FBI, 703 F.3d 575, 580 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (affirming the grant of summary judgment where the initial search was inadequate, but the ultimate search was reasonable, and where the agency provided a detailed declaration articulating the search process). Agency affidavits attesting to a reasonable search “are accorded a presumption of good faith, ” SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991), that can be rebutted only “with evidence that the agency's search was not made in good faith.” Trans Union LLC v. FTC, 141 F.Supp.2d 62, 69 (D.D.C. 2001).

         An agency's declarations “need not ‘set forth with meticulous documentation the details of an epic search for the requested records, '” Defs. of Wildlife, 623 F.Supp.2d at 91, quoting Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C. Cir. 1982), but they should “describe what records were searched, by whom, and through what processes.” Id., quoting Steinberg v. DOJ, 23 F.3d 548, 552 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Conclusory assertions about the agency's thoroughness are not sufficient. SeeMorley v. CIA, 508 F.3d 1108, 1121-22 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (finding agency's “single conclusory affidavit” to be inadequate). At the same time, however, where an “affidavit could in theory be more detailed, that fact alone does not warrant denying summary judgment in favor of a defendant. White v. DOJ, 840 F.Supp.2d 83, 89 (D.D.C. 2012).

         B. Defendant has adequately explained all but one of its renewed searches.

         To address the inadequacies of its first search, the IRS conducted supplemental searches of three functions: the National and Area Chief Counsel Offices of TEGE, the Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements section, and the Exempt Organizations Examinations function, see Def's Mem. at 8-15, as well as the IRS Communications and Liaison office, and the IRS Whistleblower Office. Def's SOF ¶ 33; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 33. To demonstrate the adequacy of these searches, the IRS submitted six declarations:

• The third declaration of A.M. Gulas, Senior Counsel in the Office of the Associate Chief Counsel, which describes her coordination with others in the agency to complete an adequate search. See 3d Gulas Decl.
• The declaration of Nia Dowdy, a Paralegal Specialist in the Disclosure & Litigation Support (“DLS”) branch of the Office of Associate Chief Counsel, which describes her search for records in the National and Area TEGE offices. See Dowdy Decl.
• Two declarations from Margaret Von Lienen describing the search of the Exempt Organizations Examinations function. See Von Lienen Decl.; 2d Von Lienen Decl..
• The declaration of Jon Waddell, Senior Manager in Exempt Organizations Rulings and Determinations Unit, which describes the search of his unit. See Waddell Decl.
• The declaration of Dean Patterson, a Public Affairs Specialist in the Media Relations Division of the Communications & Liaison Office, which describes his coordination with the branch chiefs of that office to search for responsive records. See Patterson Decl.
• The declaration of Cindy Stuart, a Management Analyst and Executive Assistant in the Whistleblower Office, which describes her search for records and the agency's Glomar response. See Stuart Decl.

         1. The renewed search of the National and Area Chief Counsel Offices of TEGE was adequate.

         In its first decision, the Court found that the search of the National & Area Chief Counsel Offices of TEGE was inadequate. Sea Shepherd, 89 F.Supp.3d at 94. Although a search memorandum was sent to the National TEGE Counsel Office, the declaration provided “no indication that . . . anyone . . . ever responded to the request to search for responsive records, nor does the declaration indicate that [the declarant] contacted anyone in the Area Chief Counsel offices of TEGE.” Sea Shepherd, 89 F.Supp.3d at 93. Despite the agency's attempts to cure the deficiency during the pendency of the litigation, the Court concluded that the agency's efforts were insufficient because they did “not sufficiently indicate that defendant conducted a search for records responsive to all portions of plaintiff's request, ” nor did they “explain the rationale for only contacting Weiner in the Pacific Coast Area TEGE Counsel office, and no other individuals or offices, with respect to plaintiff's full request.” Id. at 93-94.

         With its renewed motion for summary judgment, IRS has offered a declaration of paralegal specialist Nia Dowdy to further describe its first search of the National Counsel Office. Dowdy Decl. Dowdy's duties include processing FOIA requests; she has knowledge of the records kept by the National Counsel Office, and of the procedures for processing requests for records. Def.'s SOF ¶ 24; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 24.

         Defendant now states that on or about June 19, 2013, DLS received a copy of Sea Shepherd's FOIA request, which was subsequently assigned to Dowdy. Def.'s SOF ¶ 26; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 26. Dowdy searched CASE-MIS, an automated case tracking system, for Sea Shepherd's full name, because, as she explains, files involving a particular taxpayer are labeled using that taxpayer's name. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 27-29; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 27-29. The search returned two case numbers: PRESP-111843-13, assigned to Courtney Jones in the Exempt Organizations branch of the TEGE Associate Office in Washington, D.C., and POSTU-103863-13, assigned to Mark Weiner in the Los Angeles TEGE office. Def.'s SOF ¶ 29; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 29. There were no other case files in CASE-MIS associated with Sea Shepherd. Def.'s SOF ¶ 29; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 29.

         Dowdy sent Jones a search memorandum and requested a copy of her case file, and she also sent Jones a copy of plaintiff's FOIA request and a form to provide a description of her search efforts. Def.'s SOF ¶ 30; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 30. The records that Dowdy received from Jones were produced to Sea Shepherd. Def.'s SOF ¶ 32; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 32.

         In addition, Senior Counsel A.M. Gulas, who coordinated the defendant's overall response to plaintiff's request, see, e.g., Sea Shepherd, 89 F.Supp.3d at 92, searched CASE-MIS to determine who in TEGE might have responsive documents. Def.'s SOF ¶ 36; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 36.[3]The system returned the same two files: POSTU-103863-13, which was assigned to Mark Weiner and Patricia Wang in the TEGE Area Counsel's office in Los Angeles, Def.'s SOF ¶ 37; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 37; and PRESP-111841-13, which had been assigned to Courtney Jones in the Office of Associate Chief Counsel of TEGE, and was reviewed by Kenneth Griffin. Def.'s SOF ¶ 41; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 41.[4]

         The IRS asserts that Gulas had already obtained all responsive documents in Weiner's control during her first search. 3d Gulas Decl. ¶ 4.[5] To obtain any documents created or compiled by Wang, Gulas sent Wang a copy of Sea Shepherd's FOIA request, and asked her to search for responsive documents. Wang responded by email on April 29, 2015, indicating that she did not have any additional responsive documents. Id. ¶ 5. Gulas's declaration states that Wang forwarded the FOIA request to Kirk Paxson, who was the Deputy Division Counsel-Associate Chief Counsel for TEGE at the time of the request, and had been copied on certain emails that had been deemed responsive. Id. ¶ 6. Paxson responded to Gulas by email and reported that he did not have additional responsive documents. Id. Paxson then forwarded the FOIA request to Helene Winnick, the Special Counsel to the Division Counsel, who replied that she had no responsive files, either. Id. ¶ 7.[6]

         The second file identified in CASE-MIS, PRESP-111841-13, had been assigned to Courtney Jones in the Office of Associate Chief Counsel of TEGE, with Kenneth Griffin as her reviewer. Def.'s SOF ¶ 41; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 41. Gulas had previously obtained from Dowdy a copy of Jones's PRESP file, including all of the emails and documents that Jones had compiled. Def.'s SOF ¶ 42; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 42. Gulas also sent Griffin, Jones's reviewer, a copy of the FOIA request and asked him to search for responsive records. Def.'s SOF ¶ 43; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 43. Griffin responded via email that he had no responsive documents and explained that his involvement in the matter had been minimal. Def.'s SOF ¶ 43. Griffin included Senior Counsel Don Spellman on the email, and asked Spellman to “look for any documents or emails he might possess.” Id.; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 43. Spellman responded to Gulas, and reported that he reviewed all of his records and emails, and had located four emails on which he had been copied, but that he located no paper files pertaining to plaintiff. Def.'s SOF ¶ 44; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 44. Gulas subsequently determined the emails received from Spellman were duplicates of emails that had been previously produced at control numbers 012208-012228. Def.'s SOF ¶ 44; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 44.

         Gulas's searches returned no other files associated with plaintiff's name. Def.'s SOF ¶ 45. OCC does not have any system other than CASE-MIS which would have likely produced responsive records. Id. According to Gulas, the “best way to locate the counsel records created or compiled for a particular taxpayer's case is to identify the counsel employee(s) assigned to such case by consulting CASE-MIS.” 3d Gulas Decl. ¶ 3. Because Gulas obtained responsive documents, or a response indicating that no documents were found, from each person assigned to or involved with the two Sea Shepherd cases, Gulas concluded there were no additional locations to search for OCC documents. Id. ¶ 12.

         Sea Shepherd argues that the searches were deficient because only Gulas submitted a declaration, and Gulas lacks personal knowledge of the searches conducted by the other TEGE employees. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 38. In essence, Sea Shepherd demands an unbroken chain of declarations from each person who received a request to search their area for responsive documents. See e.g. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 39, 40. But because the statute does not require the IRS to undertake such a painstaking approach, the Court will find the search of TEGE to be adequate.

         Although defendant's declarations could certainly be more detailed, “the issue to be resolved is not whether there might exist any other documents possibly responsive to the request, but rather whether the search for those documents was adequate.” Weisberg, 745 F.2d at 1485 (emphasis in original). The adequacy of an agency's search “is judged by a standard of reasonableness and depends, not surprisingly, upon the facts of each case.” Id. “In cases where documents are collected from several different offices, unit-specific descriptions are not required, and the affidavit of the officer ultimately responsible for the supervision of the FOIA search is sufficient.” Trans Union LLC, 141 F.Supp.2d at 68-69, citing Judicial Watch, Inc. v. HHS, 27 F.Supp.2d 240, 244 (D.D.C. 1998) (“Unit-specific descriptions are not required, at least where plaintiff has failed to raise some issue of fact necessitating rebuttal.”).

         In this case, Gulas coordinated a wide-ranging search for records in numerous components of TEGE, instructing the searchers to look for any records related to Sea Shepherd. Since what plaintiff sought was exactly that - all records related to itself - defendant's failure to identify particular search terms used by Paxson and Wang does not indicate that the search was inadequate. See Friends of Blackwater v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 391 F.Supp.2d 115, 120 (D.D.C. 2005) (stating that the “fail[ure] to enumerate any specific search terms used” in a FOIA search “might not be enough to invalidate an otherwise adequate affidavit.”).

         The Court concludes that Dowdy's and Gulas's searches of OCC were “reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, 641 F.3d at 514, quoting Valencia-Lucena, 180 F.3d at 325. Gulas and Dowdy identified the relevant database that was reasonably likely to contain all records concerning Sea Shepherd within the time period at issue. They described the search methodology - plaintiff's name.[7] And they contacted all of the employees who were listed as having worked on the case, and tracked down any additional leads that flowed from those contacts. So the Court concludes that there is enough here to support judgment for the agency as to the adequacy of the searches of OCC and TEGE.

         2. The renewed search of the Exempt Organizations Rulings and ...


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