United States District Court, District of Columbia
COLLEEN KOLLAR KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 14. For the reasons discussed
below, the motion is granted.
has been charged with, tried for, and convicted of a federal
offense committed on property located at 3696 Sellman Road,
Building No. 22, Beltsville, MD 20705 (“Building
22”). See Compl. at 1. According to plaintiff,
the government claimed that Building 22 is “within the
special maritime and territorial jurisdiction [of] and
belong[s] to the United States.” Id.;
see Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to the Mot.
(“Pl.'s Opp'n”), Ex. (“Pl.'s
Aff.”). Pursuant to the Freedom of Information act
(“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552,
plaintiff submitted a request to the General Services
Administration (“GSA”) for “records . . .
demonstrating jurisdiction over [Building 22.]” Compl.
at 1. For example, plaintiff sought “copies of all
prior owners, outstanding liens, encumb[r]ances,
encroachments, rights of way and easements associated with
[the] property, ” blueprints, or any other records
“that support the actual existence and U.S. Government
property for the alleged address 3696 Sellman Road Building
22[.]” Id. at 6 (March 1, 2017 FOIA Request).
GSA did not receive a copy of plaintiff's March 1, 2017
request, apparently it received a substantially similar
request dated March 21, 2017. See Mem. in Support of
Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Lewis Decl. ¶¶ 3-4.
GSA took the following action:
6. Pursuant to [GSA's] standard procedure, [the Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) & Records Management Division
of the Office of Administrative Services] contacted the Real
Estate Division, . . . the office [which] keeps records of
all the properties owned or leased by GSA[.] The Real
Estate Division [advised] that there are no responsive
records for either request because [Building 22] that is the
subject of the FOIA requests is not owned or leased by the
7. Upon received notice from the Real Estate Division that
there are no responsive records to Plaintiff's requests,
GSA provided a written response to Plaintiff explaining that
[it] has no responsive records to either of this two (2) FOIA
Decl. ¶¶ 6-7. “[D]issatisfied with the
non-response[, ]” plaintiff filed this civil action on
May 15, 2017. Compl. at 1.
cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for
summary judgment.” Moore v. Bush, 601
F.Supp.2d 6, 12 (D.D.C. 2009) (citations omitted). Under Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court grants
summary judgment if the pleadings, disclosure materials on
file, and affidavits “show[ ] that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a);
see Judicial Watch v. Dep't of the Navy, 25
F.Supp.3d 131, 136 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986)). In a
FOIA case, this court conducts a de novo review of
the record, and the federal agency bears the burden of
proving its compliance with its obligations under the FOIA. 5
U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); see Military Audit Project v.
Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
requester dissatisfied with the agency's response that no
records have been found may challenge the adequacy of the
agency's search by filing a lawsuit in the district court
after exhausting any administrative remedies.”
Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321,
326 (D.C. Cir. 1999); see Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of
Army, 920 F.2d 57, 67 (D.C. Cir. 1990). GSA prevails on
summary judgment if it “show[s] that it made a good
faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records,
using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the
information requested.” Oglesby, 920 F.2d at
68 (citations omitted). It may rely on a declaration to
demonstrate that its search was reasonable, and the
supporting declaration must be “reasonably detailed
[and] nonconclusory.” Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of
Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (citation
omitted). “[T]he issue to be resolved is not whether
there might exist any other documents possibly responsive to
the request, but rather whether the search for those
documents was adequate.” Id.
(emphasis in original). An agency's declaration is
accorded “a presumption of good faith, which cannot be
rebutted by purely speculative claims about the existence and
discoverability of other documents.” Safecard
Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir.
1991) (internal citation and quotation omitted).
declarant explains that plaintiff's FOIA request made its
way to the Real Estate Division, the office which maintains
records about properties the GSA owns and leases.
See Lewis Decl. ¶¶ 5-6. Because Building
22 is neither owned nor leased by the GSA, the declarant
concludes that the GSA does not have records responsive to
plaintiff's request. See id. ¶ 6.
to plaintiff, a witness for the prosecution “testified
under oath that . . . Residence 3696 Sellman Road Building
No. 22 is within the special maritime and territorial
jurisdiction of the United States and property belonging to
the [GSA] and is on the North Farm of the Beltsville
Agriculture Research Center.” Pl.'s Aff. Taking
into consideration this trial testimony along with the
GSA's failure to produce records proving federal
ownership or control of Building 22, plaintiff reached the
conclusion that the federal government “never owned or
leased” it. Id. Yet plaintiff has remained
“in prison based on the government claiming ownership
and jurisdiction over [Building 22]” for more than 20
opposition also cites relevant legal authority regarding an
agency's obligations under the FOIA to conduct a good
faith search for records responsive to a FOIA request.
See Pl.'s Opp'n at 1-2. Missing, however, is
any legal argument or reference to any materials in the
record to show that a genuine issue of ...