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Seavey v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 16, 2017

NINA GILDEN SEAVEY, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Gladys Kessler United States District Judge

          I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 3, 2015, Plaintiff, Professor Nina Gilden Seavey, submitted a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request to the FBI seeking records about individuals, organizations, events, publications, and file numbers relating to the FBI's role in the anti-war movement in St. Louis in the 1960s and 1970s. In that mailing, she requested a waiver of all relevant fees and to be considered as a member of the news media for search purposes. On March 23, 2015, the FBI granted her request to be considered a member of the news media, but denied her request for a fee waiver.

         On April 23, 2015, Plaintiff administratively appealed to DO J's Office of Information Policy ("OIP") the FBI's fee waiver denial. In a letter dated May 18, 2015, OIP acknowledged that it had received her appeal on April 29, 2015 and had assigned it a tracking number: AP-2015-03420. Plaintiff did not receive any further correspondence from the FBI or the OIP relating to this appeal.

         On July 18, 2016, Defendant, the Department of Justice, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in Part in order to deny Plaintiffs claim for a fee waiver [Dkt. No. 17]. Plaintiff has also filed a Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in response to Defendant's Motion [Dkt. No. 23], to which Defendant filed an Opposition and a Reply [Dkts. No. 33 & 34]. Plaintiff then filed a Reply in Support of its Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 40]. The basic issue is Plaintiffs challenge to the Government's refusal to waive duplication fees for the work to be done on the 280 subjects included in her original and amended FOIA request. The FBI did grant Plaintiff her request for news media status, meaning that she will not be charged search fees, but denied her request of a waiver of duplication fees. Hardy Decl., ¶ 13, Ex. H.

         II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Plaintiff, Professor Nina Gilden Seavey, is one of the very few documentary film makers who holds academic appointments in both history and film. She holds the rank of full research professor in the Department of History and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, here in the District of Columbia.

         Her counsel has done an excellent job spelling out all her professional background, namely: all of the degrees she has received, her five nominations for national Emmy Awards, one of which she was awarded, as well as other prizes; commissions from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the many letters of support she has received from her peers for this project; and numerous other awards she has received over time [Dkt. No. 23 at 2-3].

         Professor Seavey has, for an extended period of time, been working on a project designed to explain the role played by the United States Government's intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the anti-war movement against our participation in Vietnam, in St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1960s and 1970s. She has worked on her project, a feature length documentary file titled My Fugitive, for decades, and is giving particular emphasis to the role the FBI played during this period of time. Once again, her lawyer has done an excellent job setting forth in great detail what and how Professor Seavey hopes to explain these issues to the public, and the impact of dissent at that time, as it is specifically related to St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington University in St. Louis [Dkt. No. 23 at 45].

          III. LEGAL STANDARD

          Summary judgment is appropriate where 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 material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         FOIA provides that "Documents shall be furnished without charge . .. if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). What is more, Department of Justice regulations similarly provide that "Records responsive to a request shall be furnished without charge or at a reduced rate ... where a component determines, based on all available information, that the requester has demonstrated that: (i) Disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government, and (ii) Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester." 28 C.F.R. § 16.10(k)(1). The regulation provides four factors for a component to consider in evaluating'a fee waiver request:

(i) The subject of the request must concern identifiable operations or activities of the Federal Government, with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.
(ii) Disclosure of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about government operations or activities in order to be "likely to contribute" to an increased public understanding of those operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either the same or a substantially identical form, would not contribute to ...

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