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Agrama v. Internal Revenue Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2017

FRANK AGRAMA, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge

         Frank Agrama filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records from the Internal Revenue Service concerning a penalty examination undertaken by IRS into Mr. Agrama's tax payments. See Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶¶ 5-8.

         Unhappy with the IRS response, Mr. Agrama has sued. The IRS now moves for summary judgment in its favor, arguing that it has met its FOIA obligations. Upon review of the entire record, the Court agrees and will grant the motion, entering judgment in favor of IRS.

         I. BACKGROUND FACTS

         A. Mr. Agrama's FOIA Request

         Frank Agrama is an individual American citizen residing in Los Angeles, California. Compl. ¶ 3. IRS, a constituent agency of the United States Department of Treasury, is headquartered in Washington, D.C. On February 12, 2016, Mr. Agrama submitted a FOIA request to IRS requesting “each and every document (exclusive of the filed tax [sic] income tax returns) contained in the administrative files of the Internal Revenue Service relating to Form 5471 proposed penalty liabilities of Frank Agrama . . . for taxable years 1982-2014.” Compl. Ex. B, FOIA Disclosure Request [Dkt. 1-2] at 1. Mr. Agrama listed several illustrative categories of information sought, including, inter alia, Examination Division Administrative files related to any audits; any and all documents received or otherwise requested pursuant to any U.S. tax treaty; and documents maintained electronically. See Id. at 1-2. IRS received Mr. Agrama's request on February 18, 2016, and assigned it to Cheri Rossi, a Disclosure Specialist. See IRS Mot. Summ. J (IRS MSJ) Ex. C, Rossi Decl. [Dkt. 12-3] ¶¶ 6, 7.

         Because Mr. Agrama's request concerned an individual taxpayer, IRS began its search for responsive documents by searching its Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS), which is a database that manages data retrieved from IRS's Master File, the IRS's nationwide electronic information system containing taxpayer account information. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. Searching this database, Ms. Rossi used a number of commands in conjunction with Mr. Agrama's unique taxpayer identification number. Id. ¶¶ 10, 11. Her search identified open examinations being conducted by two IRS Revenue Agents for tax years 1997 to 2009, and 2011. Id. ¶ 9. Records associated with these examinations were collected and reviewed, and responsive, non-exempt records were produced to Mr. Agrama in the fall of 2016. IRS MSJ Ex. D, Valvardi Decl. [Dkt. 12-4] ¶ 10.

         IRS released a total of 3, 708 pages to Mr. Agrama, constituting 1, 537 individual records. Id. ¶ 11. Of these, 3, 590 pages were released entirely and 118 were released in part. Id. IRS withheld in full 1, 055 pages, the contents of which are described in its affidavits submitted to this Court. See generally Id. IRS also withheld a total of 15, 150 records-the total page number also withheld-related to its ongoing penalty examination, as well as ongoing examinations of other taxpayers. See Id. ¶ 11.

         B. Procedural History

         Mr. Agrama filed this lawsuit on April 15, 2016. See Compl. Discussions between the parties continued during this period, and, as previously stated, records responsive to Mr. Agrama's request were produced several months later, beginning in September 2016. Valvardi Decl. ¶ 10. The production concluded by December 2016, and in February 2017 IRS filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. IRS MSJ [Dkt. 12]. Mr. Agrama opposed this Motion, Pl.'s Opp'n [Dkt. 16], and the IRS replied, IRS Reply [Dkt. 18]. The IRS also submitted an in camera affidavit and addendum brief to the Court to provide further justification for its decision to withhold the 15, 150 records related to the ongoing penalty examination. See IRS Notice of Compliance [Dkt. 19]. The matter is now ripe for the Court's review.

         II. VENUE AND JURISDICTION

         Section 552(a)(4)(B) of the U.S. Code grants subject matter jurisdiction over all actions brought under FOIA, and makes this an appropriate forum for venue purposes. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (2012) (“On complaint, the district court of the United States in the district in which the complainant resides, or has his principal place of business, or in which the agency records are situated, or in the District of Columbia, has jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant.”); see Jones v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 654 F.Supp. 130, 131 (D.D.C. 1987).

         The Court's jurisdiction under FOIA extends only to claims arising from the improper withholding of agency records. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); see also Lazaridis v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 713 F.Supp.2d 64, 66 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing McGehee v. CIA, 697 F.2d 1095, 1105 (D.C. Cir. 1983)).

         III. ...


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