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Jenkins v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 11, 2017

VAN JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and to Dismiss, ECF No. 15. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff currently is incarcerated at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan. Compl. ¶ 5. He alleges that “[d]efendant holds Records and Bonds information, Judgment information and/or Commercial crimes Bonding Information and/or Case Bonding information and/or commercial crimes Bonding information Certificate, ” id. ¶ 9, about him, see id. ¶ 10.

         Under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, plaintiff submitted a request for information to the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, and its caption read:

IDENTIFICATION OF REQUESTER: IN ACCORDANCE WITH 28 CFR Sec. 16.41(d) INFORMATION IN RE: DISCLOSURE OF ALL CRIMINAL BONDS, BONDING, JUDGMENT NUMBERS, OR OTHERWISE AS REQUESTED, CASE NO. 08-1329-FH WASHTENAW COUNTY 22ND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT, ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN & CASE NO. 13-708614

Compl., Ex. A-1 (Letter to Nancy Aishie A. Abraham from plaintiff dated May 3, 2016) (emphasis in original). The request made its way to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (“EOUSA”), a component of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”). Id. ¶ 12.

         EOUSA staff construed the request as one for information about two criminal cases in the Michigan state courts. Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. and to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”). Decl. of David Luczynski (“Luczynski Decl.”) ¶ 3. EOUSA's declarant explained that “DOJ does not prosecute state cases in Michigan, and [it] was not involved in the cases for which plaintiff seeks information.” Luczynski Decl. ¶ 4. “Because plaintiff [sought] information about state (rather than federal) cases, no DOJ system of records is likely to contain any records sought by plaintiff.” Id. Nevertheless, EOUSA staff assigned the matter a tracking number (FOIA-2016-2583) and notified plaintiff that his request was incomplete because he had “not provide[d] a notarized example of his signature or a certification of identity.” Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff was instructed to “file a new, corrected FOIA request.” Id.

         Plaintiff resubmitted his request, Compl. ¶ 13, and filed an administrative appeal to the DOJ's Office of Information Policy (“OIP”) both challenging the EOUSA's purported delay in responding to his original FOIA request and requesting expedited processing of the appeal, id. ¶¶ 13-16; see Luczynski Decl, Ex. E (Letter to Director of OIP from plaintiff dated July 13, 2016). EOUSA staff assigned the request a tracking number (FOIA-2016-3203) and notified plaintiff that his second request was deficient also. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 7. “[F]iles and records of United States Attorneys are maintained in over one hundred separate offices throughout the United States, ” Compl., Ex. C-3 (Letter to plaintiff from dated July 19, 2016) at 1, and unless plaintiff identified “the specific United States Attorney's [O]ffice(s) where he believed the records may be located, ” the EOUSA would not process his request, Luczynski Decl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was instructed to correct the deficiency and to file a new FOIA request. Id. Aside from the July 13, 2016 administrative appeal to the OIP, id. ¶ 9, “DOJ has not received any further communication from . . . plaintiff, ” id. ¶ 10.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. The EOUSA Complied with the FOIA

         1. Plaintiff Failed to Submit a Proper FOIA Request to the EOUSA An “agency, upon any request for records which (i) reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any), and procedures to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A). “Omitting one of the two threshold requirements for a proper FOIA request . . . warrants dismissal.” Lowe v. DEA, No. 06-CV-1133, 2007 WL 2104309, at *5 (D.D.C. July 22, 2007) (citations omitted). Records are reasonably described “if a professional employee of the agency familiar with the subject matter can locate the records with a reasonable amount of effort.” Armstrong v. Bush, 139 F.R.D. 547, 553 (D.D.C. 1991) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). If an agency's response to a FOIA request calls for “an unreasonably burdensome search, ” Am. Fed'n of Gov't Employees, Local 2782 v. U.S. Dep't of Commerce, 632 F.Supp. 1272, 1278 (D.D.C. 1986) (citing Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 353 (D.C. Cir. 1978)), the agency need not honor the request.

         The EOUSA requires that a requester specify the particular United States Attorney's Office(s) where he believes the desired information is located. Its declarant explains:

A search of every United States Attorney's office for a case related to [plaintiff] would be unreasonably burdensome because each United States Attorney's office handles record-keeping differently. They vary greatly in size and number of staff as well as the amount of cases handled. Due to these variations, larger offices have larger record-keeping filing systems, or even off site storage, while smaller offices have dedicated file rooms or cabinets on the premises. Asking each of the offices, large and small, to . . . examine each of their files and storage boxes would be unduly burdensome. In addition, most U.S. Attorney's offices are understaffed. Accordingly, requesters are required to ...

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