United States District Court, District of Columbia
JASON T. REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATE[S] DEPT. OF JUSTICE, Defendant.
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.
prisoner and pro se Plaintiff Jason T. Reynolds
alleges that in 2015 he twice sent Freedom of Information Act
requests to the Department of Justice concerning the search
of his home and his arrest. Having received no response, he
then initiated this suit. The problem, says DOJ, is that it
never received either request. As a result, it now moves for
summary judgment, which the Court will grant.
to Reynolds, who is currently incarcerated in Buffalo Grove,
Illinois, he mailed a FOIA request to the Executive Office
for United States Attorneys at DOJ on March 31, 2015, seeking
“copies of all documents relevant to the search of Mr.
Reynolds['s] home prior to and during his arrest. . . .
We [sic] are interested in all of the agents'
reports and copies of all photographs taken of the premises,
as well as an inventory of all items seized.” ECF No.
12 (Opposition with exhibits) at 6 (March 31, 2015, Letter).
Having heard nothing from DOJ, he followed up with a second
epistle on June 15, 2015, mentioning the lack of response and
asking for prompt compliance. Id. at 7 (June 15,
piece of correspondence apparently reached the Department.
According to David Luczynski, Attorney Advisor with EOUSA,
FOIA requests are processed thus: “When a FOIA request
is submitted to . . . [EOUSA], the agency opens a new file
with the requester's name and assigns it a FOIA reference
number. A letter acknowledging the FOIA request is sent to
the requester providing him/her with the FOIA reference
number[, ] which helps the parties locate the appropriate
request . . . .” ECF No. 10-1 (Declaration of David
Luczynski), ¶ 4. As Plaintiff in this litigation did not
submit a copy of EOUSA's acknowledgment letter or
reference number, EOUSA performed a search to see if it could
locate the request. Id., ¶¶ 5-6. A Legal
Administrative Specialist searched the two computer-database
systems that “track all FOIA files, litigation, and
appeals, as well as any mail and/or correspondence related to
these files.” Id., ¶ 7. The Specialist
also “inquired with staff in addition to a search
under” the name of the institution where Plaintiff was
incarcerated. Id., ¶ 8. Other inquiries also
ensued. Id. At bottom, there was no record of
Reynolds's having submitted any FOIA request.
Id., ¶¶ 8-10.
nonetheless filed this suit seeking the records and arguing
that, given Defendant's delay, he should be deemed to
have exhausted his administrative remedies. See
Compl., ¶ 10. DOJ now moves to dismiss or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment.
Court decides this Motion on summary judgment, that is the
only standard it will articulate. Summary judgment may be
granted 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). A
fact is “material” if it is capable of affecting
the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A
dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that
a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380
(2007); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. “A
party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely
disputed must support the assertion” by “citing
to particular parts of materials in the record” or
“showing that the materials cited do not establish the
absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse
party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the
fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The moving party bears
the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In the event of conflicting evidence on
a material issue, the Court is to construe the conflicting
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
See Sample v. Bureau of Prisons, 466 F.3d 1086, 1087
(D.C. Cir. 2006).
cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for
summary judgment. See Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade
Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In a FOIA
case, a court may grant summary judgment based solely on
information provided in an agency's affidavits or
declarations when they “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.” Larson v. Dep't of State, 565 F.3d
857, 862 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “Unlike
the review of other agency action that must be upheld if
supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary or
capricious, the FOIA expressly places the burden ‘on
the agency to sustain its action' and directs the
district courts to ‘determine the matter de
novo.'” Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm.
for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 755 (1989)
(quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)).
FOIA statute provides that “each agency, upon any
request for records which (i) reasonably describes such
records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules .
. . shall make the records promptly available to any
person.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A). Consistent with
this statutory mandate, federal courts have jurisdiction to
order the production of records that an agency improperly
withholds. Id. § 552(a)(4)(B); Reporters
Comm., 489 U.S. at 754-55. “At all times courts
must bear in mind that FOIA mandates a ‘strong
presumption in favor of disclosure.'” Nat'l
Ass'n of Home Builders v. Norton, 309 F.3d 26, 32
(D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Dep't of State v. Ray,
502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991)).
seeking summary judgment, Defendant makes two arguments: 1)
Plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies; and
2) EOUSA had no obligation to search for records where it
never received a request. The former seems less convincing,
particularly given that Reynolds could not appeal a denial
that never happened, and any exhaustion requirement is waived
if a response is not timely. The latter, however, carries the
offered comprehensive sworn testimony that it never received
Plaintiff's FOIA requests. Reynolds rejoins by attaching
copies of his two letters and swearing he mailed them, but
this evidence does not show that they were ever received by
Justice. See ECF No. 12 at 5 (Sworn Statement of
Jason T. Reynolds) (asserting that “he mailed or caused
to be mailed on three [?] separate occasions a FOIA request
to the address indicated on the Department of Justice
website”). In other words, Plaintiff does not offer
proof via, e.g., a certified-mail receipt or any
other form of mailing that his missives reached their
intended target. This is thus insufficient to create a
dispute of material fact that DOJ ever received his
requests, particularly in a FOIA case, where courts typically
grant summary judgment by relying on sworn agency affidavits
that are sufficiently convincing, as is Luczynski's here.
See Brayton, 641 F.3d at 527 (“vast majority
of FOIA cases can be resolved on summary judgment”);
Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C. Cir. 1982)
(to meet its burden, agency may submit affidavits or
declarations that explain the scope and method of its search
“in reasonable detail.”).
did not receive Reynolds's correspondence, it had no
obligation to search for or produce records. See Carbe v.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2004 WL
2051359, at *8 (D.D.C. Aug. 12, 2004) (granting summary
judgment to government defendant where no record of receipt
of FOIA request: “If no FOIA request is received, an
agency has no reason to search or produce records and
similarly has no basis to respond.”), quoted in
Johnson v. United States, 2017 WL 883779, at *4 (D.D.C.
March 6, 2017). Absent receipt of the request, the agency