Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Martinez v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 27, 2018

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Francisco Martínez is an attorney conducting research on the Chicano civil rights movement. See ECF No. 21 (“Pl.'s Opp.”) at 1-2, 10. On September 16, 2015, Martínez submitted sixteen separate Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests to various subcomponents of seven federal agencies.[1] See ECF No. 19-1 (“Defs.' Mot.”) at 2; ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 19-122. The requests sought information on specific people, organizations, events, and publications related to the Chicano civil rights movement in Colorado from 1968 to 1978. See Pl.'s Opp. at 10; ECF No. 21-1 (“Martínez Decl.”) at 4. The requests to each agency were not identical, but many of them overlapped. See ECF No. 21-2 to 21-8 (Ex. 1A-1G); Pl.'s Opp. at 5-9. Martínez also applied for a fee waiver, or in the alternative, to be considered a media representative for fee purposes for each of his FOIA requests. Compl. ¶¶ 19-122.

         On July 22, 2016, Martínez filed suit against the seven federal agencies, alleging that they had improperly withheld records responsive to his FOIA requests and incorrectly denied his requests for fee waivers. Id. ¶¶ 123-143. On August 3, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Sever for Improper Joinder. Defs.' Mot. On August 17, 2017, Martínez responded, filing his opposition and attaching a declaration and the FOIA requests at issue as exhibits. Pl.'s Opp. On August 31, 2017, Defendants filed their reply brief in support of their Motion. ECF No. 23. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

         I. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 20(a)(2), a plaintiff may join defendants if he or she demonstrates that: (1) “any right to relief . . . asserted against them . . . aris[es] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences;” and (2) if “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2).[2] Both the “same-transaction” and “common-question-of-law-or-fact” prongs of the rule are meant to be “liberally construed” in order to promote the “just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of the action.” Davidson v. District of Columbia, 736 F.Supp.2d 115, 119 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Lane v. Tschetter, No. 05-cv-1414, 2007 WL 2007493, at *7 (D.D.C. July 10, 2007)). “[U]nder the Rules, the impulse is toward entertaining the broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged.” M.K. v. Tenet, 216 F.R.D. 133, 143 (D.D.C. 2002) (quoting United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724 (1966)).

         Although all joined claims must arise from the same transaction, the Supreme Court has recognized that “‘[t]ransaction' is a word of flexible meaning, ” which is dependent “not so much upon the immediateness of [the claims'] connection as upon their logical relationship.” Feld Entm't Inc. v. Am. Soc'y for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 873 F.Supp.2d 288, 305 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Moore v. N.Y. Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 610 (1926)). Thus, to meet Rule 20(a)(2), the claims must be “logically related” to each other, Davidson, 736 F.Supp.2d at 119, although “[a]bsolute identity of all events is unnecessary, ” In re Vitamins Antitrust Litig., No. MISC 99-197 (TFH), 2000 WL 1475705, at *18 (D.D.C. May 9, 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Mosley v. Gen. Motors Corp., 497 F.2d 1330, 1333 (8th Cir. 1974). The “logical relationship” test is “flexible, ” Disparte v. Corp. Exec. Bd., 223 F.R.D. 7, 10 (D.D.C. 2004), and is to be “construed in a legal climate that favors joinder, ” Alexander v. Edgewood Mgmt. Corp., 321 F.R.D. 460, 463 (D.D.C. 2017).

         The second prong of Rule 20(a)(2) is also to be broadly interpreted, requiring only that “some common question of law or fact” connects the claims against defendants, but not that all legal or factual questions are common to all parties involved. Disparte, 223 F.R.D. at 11 (citing Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1334). Even if joinder is proper under Rule 20(a)(2), Rule 21 permits courts to sever claims “upon a sufficient showing of prejudice to the defendant, delay, or potential for jury confusion.” Alexander, 321 F.R.D. at 464 (citing Montgomery v. STG Int'l, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 29, 35 (D.D.C. 2008)).

         II. Analysis

         A. Rule 20(a)(2) - “Same-Transaction” Prong

         The Court concludes that Martínez's FOIA requests involve the same transaction because they are “logically related.” All of his requests seek records referring to or relating to specific individuals, organizations, and events connected to the Chicano civil rights movement in Colorado from 1968 to 1978. Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 1A-1G. That is sufficient to meet the legal standard here. FOIA requests are “logically related” when they belong to “essentially identical categories of records . . . regarding the same underlying subject matter.” Envir. Integrity Proj. v. Small Bus. Admin., No. 1:13-cv-01962, 2014 WL 2768853, at *1-2 (D.D.C. June 16, 2014). Although each agency received a request for a different combination of individuals, organizations, and events, there is significant overlap among the requests-as demonstrated by the charts provided by Martinez. See Pl.'s Opp. 5-9. The “same-transaction” prong does not require that all of these requests be identical. See Mosley, 497 F.2d at 1333; Alexander, 321 F.R.D. at 463 (“That there are some material differences between the allegations against each defendant ‘does not automatically bring such claims outside the same transaction or occurrence language.'” (quoting Montgomery, 532 F.Supp.2d at 36)). Indeed, Martínez could have submitted identical FOIA requests for records to each agency. Instead, as he explains, he requested the records that each agency was most likely to have. Pl.'s Opp. at 10. To require Martínez to have submitted identical FOIA requests here would incentivize individuals in his position to submit unnecessary requests to each agency in an effort to strengthen a case for joinder.

         Furthermore, Martínez submitted all of the FOIA requests at issue to Defendants on the same day. While that alone does not prove that the claims arise out of the same transaction, combined with the fact that the records requested pertained to the same limited subject matter, it is further evidence of a “logical relationship” among the claims. See Envir. Integrity Proj., 2014 WL 2768853, at *1 (noting that for “logically related” claims, plaintiff requested records on the same day, but denying joinder of claims arising from requests filed two months later).

         Defendants misapply the “logical relationship” test by requiring an “allegation of concerted action between [joined] defendants.” Defs.' Mot. at 5 (citing Spaeth v. Mich. State Univ. Coll. of Law, 845 F.Supp.2d 48, 53 (D.D.C. 2012); U.S. ex rel. Grynberg v. Alaskan Pipeline Co., No. 95-725, 1997 WL 33763820, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 27, 1997)). The cases they cite are easily distinguishable. In Spaeth and Grynberg, both courts required “concerted action” because defendants were independent corporate or non-profit defendants and were related only because they allegedly committed similar violations of federal law. See Spaeth, 845 F.Supp.2d at 50 (requiring “concerted action” where individual law schools each chose not to hire plaintiff);[3] Grynberg, 1997 WL 33763820, at *2 (requiring “concerted action” where sixty defendants were connected only by allegedly committing “similar actions at different times and different places, ” namely by submitting “distinct and separate false statements on different contracts”).

         In this case, Defendants are all federal agencies with law enforcement and intelligence-gathering functions that Martínez asserts monitored the Chicano civil rights movement in Colorado during the time period in question.[4] These agencies are not “totally independent actors” as the defendants were in Spaeth and Grynberg. Martínez asserts that several of the relevant agencies coordinated certain operations relating to the Chicano civil rights movement, and identifies specific inter-agency memoranda that reflect such coordination. Pl.'s Opp. at 11. Moreover, Defendants are all components of the federal government and are subject to similar policies. See Alexander, 321 F.R.D. at 463 (finding logical relatedness between housing discrimination cases where housing providers had “limited discretion as to whose applications they [could] reject” since they were both subject to the same regulating authority). Perhaps for that reason, courts in this Circuit generally do not require “concerted action” to justify joinder in FOIA cases. See, e.g., Envir. Integrity Proj., 2014 WL 2768853, at *1 (deciding to join agencies in a FOIA action without any reference to a “concerted action”).

         For the reasons described above, and in light of the fact that the term “transaction” has a “flexible meaning, ” the Court finds there is a sufficient “logical relationship” among Martínez's claims to satisfy this prong of Rule 20(a)(2). However, in ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.