United States District Court, District of Columbia
CLARENCE E. BALDWIN, Plaintiff,
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
RANDOLPH D. MOSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
se complaints are “‘held to less stringent
[pleading] standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted). At some point, however, the
Court cannot proceed with a case in the absence of a properly
framed legal dispute. Here, the plaintiff, Clarence Baldwin,
filed a FOIA action seeking records that the defendant, the
Small Business Administration (“SBA”), allegedly
failed to release in response to Baldwin's March 1, 2016,
and May 18, 2016, FOIA requests. Baldwin, however, faced a
substantial, threshold difficulty with his claim: The FOIA
requests that he attached to his complaint did not request
agency records but, rather, simply posed questions for the
SBA to answer, see Dkt. 1 at 4-5 & 8-9. Because
“FOIA [does not] require an agency to answer
questions disguised as . . . FOIA request[s], . . . or to
create documents . . . in response to an individual's
request for information, ” Hudgins v. IRS, 620
F.Supp. 18, 21 (D.D.C. 1985) (citation omitted), that flaw
ordinarily would have provided ample basis to dispose of the
case. The SBA would have been justified in declining to
respond to Baldwin's interrogatories, and it would have
been justified in seeking dismissal of his complaint on the
ground that an agency's failure to respond to
interrogatories in not actionable under FOIA. See Hall v.
Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 132 F.Supp.3d 60, 67
(D.D.C. 2015); Jean-Pierre v. Fed. Bureau of
Prisons, 880 F.Supp.2d 95, 104 (D.D.C. 2012); Adams
v. FBI, 572 F.Supp.2d 65, 68 (D.D.C. 2008).
SBA, however, went beyond its legal obligation and endeavored
to provide Baldwin with records that, in substance, responded
to his requests. After receiving his interrogatories, Laura
Magere, Chief of the SBA's FOIA unit, contacted Baldwin
and explained to him that “FOIA does not require
federal agencies to respond to questions” and that FOIA
allows members of the public “to submit written
requests for . . . release of agency records.” Dkt.
11-2 at 3 (Magere Decl. ¶ 5). Magere subsequently spoke
with Baldwin by telephone on several occasions and, after
repeatedly asking that he submit a request for specific
records, Magere sent Baldwin an email identifying the records
that she believed he was seeking. Id. (Magere Decl.
¶¶ 6-7). Baldwin concurred, thanking Magere for her
assistance. Id. (Magere Decl. ¶ 7). According
to Magere, the records identified in her email were produced
to Baldwin on July 22, 2016. Id. at 4 (Magere Decl.
¶ 8). Another SBA attorney confirmed that she processed
the request, redacted certain personal and confidential
information pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 4, 5 and 6, and
released 327 pages of records to Baldwin on July 22. Dkt.
11-3 at 3-4 (Hulme Decl. ¶¶ 8-10).
the 327 pages of records were released approximately three
weeks after Baldwin brought this suit, because his complaint
attached (and thus incorporated) his interrogatories, and
because it did not refer to the requests for records set
forth in Magere's email, it was unclear which, if any,
agency records Baldwin sought to compel the SBA to release.
See Dkt. 1. That lack of clarity was heightened,
moreover, when Baldwin contacted counsel for the SBA in
August 2016, indicating that he had received the production
from the SBA but did not believe that it “contain[ed]
all of the information requested.” Dkt. 9 at 2.
effort to clarify matters, counsel for the SBA requested that
Baldwin “send to the SBA a list of information [he]
believed to be missing from the production, ” and he
agreed to do so. Id. In order to provide time for
Baldwin to identify any such omissions, the SBA sought an
extension of time to respond to the complaint, Dkts. 9 &
10. The Court granted the SBA's motion for an extension
and ordered Baldwin to “provide [the SBA] with notice
of the documents he believes are missing from the productions
[the SBA] has provided so far.” Minute Order, August
failed to comply with that order, prompting the SBA to move
to dismiss the complaint for lack of prosecution. Dkt. 11. In
response, the Court ordered that Baldwin “either 
provide a list of the records he [contends are] missing from
the productions [the SBA had] provided so far or  file a
brief in opposition to [the SBA's] Motion to Dismiss for
Lack of Prosecution.” Dkt. 12 at 2. The Court set a
deadline of November 1, 2016, for Baldwin to make this
submission and cautioned that, if he failed to file a timely
response, the Court might treat the SBA's motion as
conceded and might “dismiss the action for failure to
subsequently sought, and the Court granted, a seven-day
extension of time to provide the list of records or to oppose
the SBA's motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute.
Minute Order, November 7, 2016. At the same time, the Court
once again cautioned Baldwin that “[f]ailure to provide
the list of missing records or to show cause for failure to
do so may result in dismissal of this action for failure to
prosecute.” Id. With this extension,
Baldwin's response was due on or before November 10,
10, 2016, came and went without a response to the Court's
orders. Finally, almost two weeks later, Baldwin filed an
“opposition” to the SBA's motion on November
23, 2016. That filing, however, neither identified the
records that Baldwin contends have not been produced nor
explained why the case should not be dismissed for failure to
prosecute. According to Baldwin's response, “[t]he
list of records that are missing from production” is as
1). . . . How many Loan Specialist[s] were hired permanently
through SBA including contractors within the last 24 months
(JANUARY 2014-JANUARY 2016)
2.) How many Loan Specialist[s] were at the production rate
of 2.75 times from November 2015 to January 2016? . . . .
3.) How many [L]oan Specialists were transferred to three
supervisors within 6 months of employment at SBA National
Guaranty Purchase Center in Herndon, VA? . . . .
4.) Did Yvonne Singh have three Supervisors? What were their
names, and was he/she terminated? . . . .
5.) How many Loan Specialists had disciplinary actions
[im]posed on them for low productivity in the last 24 months
from January 2014-January 2016 and their names?
6.)(a.) How many Loan Specialist production rates went up
after being transferred to Ms. Linda Petty for the 18 months,