United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
June 2013, Ranfiel Castaneda Sanchez and Yolanda Vizcarra
Calderon have sought visas to enter the United States.
Pederson Decl. ¶ 15. But their requests have been denied
on the ground that there is reason to suspect their
involvement in money laundering and drug trafficking.
Id. ¶ 21. Seeking to learn the basis for the
government's suspicions, both Castaneda Sanchez and
Vizcarra Calderon filed a series of requests under the
Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Id.
¶ 3. As relevant here, Castaneda Sanchez filed a request
with the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) for any
records about him. Myrick Decl., Ex. A. When the DEA reported
that its search yielded no responsive records, he filed suit
against the Department of Justice, the DEA's parent
agency, under FOIA. The Department has now moved for summary
judgment. Finding that the Department has conducted an
adequate search for records, the Court will grant its motion.
judgment may be granted when the moving party establishes
that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In FOIA cases, summary judgment is the
appropriate mechanism for determining whether an agency has
discharged its obligations. See, e.g., Judicial
Watch, Inc. v. CFPB, 60 F.Supp.3d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2014).
The Court may rely on declarations or affidavits provided by
agency personnel that are “relatively detailed and
non-conclusory” when ruling on summary judgment.
SafeCard Services, Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200
(D.C. Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Such affidavits are
“accorded a presumption of good faith.”
FOIA, an agency is obligated to conduct an adequate search
for records responsive to a valid request. Rodriguez v.
Dep't of Def., 236 F.Supp.3d 26, 34 (D.D.C. 2017).
Courts apply a “reasonableness” test to determine
whether a search was adequate, and reasonableness is
determined generally by the methods and not the fruits of a
search. Id. The agency bears the burden of proving
that its search was reasonable. Id. To do so, the
agency “must show 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 v. U.S. Dep't of Army,
920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990). In making this showing, the
agency may rely on affidavits that detail “what records
were searched, by whom, and through what process.”
Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548,
552 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
Department has provided such an affidavit here. Katherine
Myrick, the Chief of the FOIA Management Section at the
DEA's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia submitted a
sworn affidavit on behalf of the Department. See
generally Myrick Decl. According to Myrick, she
performed a search of the DEA's Narcotics and Dangerous
Drugs Information System (“NADDIS”), the data
index system for the DEA's Investigative Reporting and
Filing System (“IRFS”). Id. ¶¶
7, 15-16. The IRFS contains “all administrative,
general, and criminal investigative files compiled by
DEA.” Id. ¶ 6. Myrick attests that she
performed multiple queries on NADDIS, including variations of
Castaneda Sanchez's name and identifying numbers such as
his date of birth. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. The
Myrick Declaration is sufficiently detailed to carry the
Department's burden of demonstrating it conducted a
search reasonably calculated to turn up any responsive
Sanchez raises two main arguments in response, but neither is
persuasive. First, he argues the search was inadequate
because the Department did not search the DEA's Tijuana
and Guadalajara, Mexico field offices despite a reasonable
inference that any responsive records might be found there.
Citing the decision in McLaughlin v. U.S. Dep't of
Justice, 530 F.Supp.2d 210, 213 (D.D.C 2008), he argues
that this failure to search every location where records
might be reasonably found makes the search deficient. But
unlike in McLaughlin, where the government did not
“refute [plaintiffs'] suggestion that it failed
to search an obvious location, ” 530 F.Supp.2d at 213,
here the Department has provided assurances that it did in
fact search the Tijuana and Guadalajara field offices.
According to a supplemental declaration filed by Myrick,
“[a] search of IRFS using NADDIS is a worldwide search
for DEA records, including records maintained at field
offices.” Myrick First Supplemental Decl. ¶ 8. In
other words, Myrick has attested that any information that
existed at the Tijuana and Guadalajara field offices would
have been located via her search of NADDIS. Castaneda Sanchez
provides no basis upon which to conclude that the
Supplemental Myrick Declaration does not accurately describe
the scope of NADDIS. Thus, the Department has justified that
it searched in all the logical places where responsive
records would have been found.
Castaneda Sanchez suggests that the search was inadequate
because it yielded no records even though he was informed by
a government official that a “case” related to
drug trafficking allegations against him exists. But
“it is long settled that the failure of an agency to
turn up one specific document in its search does not alone
render a search inadequate.” Iturralde v.
Comptroller of Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir.
2003). Nor is it even certain that any existing
“case” against Castaneda Sanchez is one involving
the DEA. As the Department aptly points out, many
agencies-including state agencies-have authority to
investigate drug trafficking. It is certainly possible that
any investigation into alleged drug trafficking involves a
different law enforcement agency. At this juncture, Castaneda
Sanchez does little more than speculate that the DEA had an
open investigation into his alleged involvement in drug
trafficking. “Mere speculation that as yet uncovered
documents may exist does not undermine the finding that the
agency conducted a reasonable search for them.”
SafeCard Services, 926 F.2d at 1201.
light of the Myrick Declarations, the Court concludes that
the Department has carried its burden to demonstrate it
conducted an adequate search. The Court will therefore grant
the Department's Motion for Summary Judgment. A separate
Order shall accompany this memorandum opinion.
 Nothing in this opinion should be
construed to express a view on whether Castaneda Sanchez or
Vizcarra Calderon has any involvement in money laundering or
drug trafficking. Both have consistently asserted their
innocence on all fronts.
 Vizcarra Calderon filed a similar FOIA
request and has brought suit against the DEA in a separate
 Castaneda Sanchez also brought a claim
under the Administrative Procedure Act. However, in his
opposition he withdraws this claim. See Pl.'s
Mem. P. & A. Opp'n ...