United States District Court, District of Columbia
LINDA P. WALSTON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, et al., Defendants.
N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the
Defendants, the Department of Justice and the Defense
Information Systems Agency. The Defendants argue that they
are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff Linda
Walston's Freedom of Information Act claims because they
have demonstrated the adequacy of their searches for records
related to a complaint that Ms. Walston filed with the
Department of Defense. Ms, Walston argues that some of her
Freedom of Information Act requests seek a broader range of
records that are beyond the scope of the Defendants'
searches. Because Ms. Walston's allegations about the
existence of further responsive records are speculative and
the Defendants have adequately demonstrated that their
searches were reasonably calculated to identify any
responsive records, the Defendants' motion for summary
judgment will be granted.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at issue in the
consolidated cases now before me are related to a complaint
that Ms. Walston made to the Department of Defense's
Office of the Inspector General (IG) upon her alleged
discovery that her computer had been hacked by IP addresses
registered to the Department of Defense's Network
Information Center (NIC). Compl. ¶ 8. The Defense
Information Systems Agency (DISA), which is a component of
the Department of Defense, assigned Ms. Walston's
Department of Defense complaint the case number 2014-0193.
Id. at ¶ 9. Ms. Walston then submitted a FOIA
request to DISA for "all documents that refer or relate
to DISA OIC Hotline Case No. 2014-0193." Id. at
¶ 10; see also Declaration of Linda P. Walston
Ex. 2, l:16-cv-02523. Later, Ms. Walston submitted a second
set of FOIA requests for "all responsive records
pertaining to DISA IG case # 2014-0193" to four DISA
agencies-the NIC, the Security Operation Columbus Network
Assurance (COLSNA), the Incident Response Branch DISA Field
Security Operations (IRB), and DISA ESD. Compl. ¶ 15,
l:16-cv-02523;see also Declaration of LindaP.
Walston Exs. 3-6, l:16-cv-02523. Ms. Walston then sued the
Defendants for failure to comply with her FOIA requests,
filing one case for her first request and another for her
second set of requests. Finding that the cases involved
common questions of law and fact, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan
consolidated the cases on March 27, 2017.
before the cases were consolidated, Judge Sullivan entered a
Memorandum Opinion and Order granting partial summary
judgment to the Defendant in the case regarding Ms.
Walston's first FOIA request. Judge Sullivan determined
that the Department of Defense was entitled to summary
judgment as to its claimed exemptions and its arguments
regarding the segregability of the records produced, but was
not entitled to summary judgment as to the adequacy of
DISA's search for responsive records. Op. at 19. Judge
Sullivan determined that the Defendant's declaration in
support of summary judgment did not contain all the
information needed for the Court to determine that DISA's
search was adequate and instructed the Department of Defense
to file a renewed motion for summary judgment with a
sufficiently detailed declaration, after conducting a new
search if necessary. The Defendants in the consolidated case
filed the renewed motion for summary judgment that is now
before me, and the only question at issue is whether their
declarations sufficiently demonstrate the adequacy of their
search for responsive records.
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show
that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986);
Gelotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
The FOIA requires federal agencies to "disclose
information to the public upon reasonable request unless the
records at issue fall within specifically delineated
exemptions." Judicial Watch, Inc. v. FBI, 522
F.3d 364, 365-66 (D.C. Cir. 2008); see also 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(a)(3)(A) (records sought must be "reasonably
describe[d]"). Thus, a FOIA defendant is entitled to
summary judgment if it demonstrates that there is no genuine
dispute as to whether "each document that falls within
the class requested either has been produced, is
unidentifiable or is wholly exempt from the Act's
inspection requirements." See Weisberg v. Dep 't
of Justice, 627 F.2d 365, 368 (D.C. Cir. 1980). The
"vast majority" of FOIA cases are decided on
motions for summary judgment. See Brayton v. Office of
U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
that any unproduced documents cannot be identified, a
defendant must demonstrate "a good faith effort to 
search for the requested records, using methods which can be
reasonably expected to produce the information
requested." Oglesby v. Dep Y of the
Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990). In other words,
the defendant must "demonstrate beyond material doubt
that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover all
relevant documents." Nation Magazine v. Customs
Serv., 71 F.3d 885, 890 (D.C. Cir. 1995). However, the
touchstone of the analysis is the reasonableness of the
search, not the records produced. See Hodge v. FBI,
703 F.3d 575, 580 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ("[T]he adequacy of a
search is determined not by the fruits of the search, but by
the appropriateness of [its] methods."); Mobley v.
CIA, 806 F.3d 568, 583 (D.C. Cir. 2015) ("[A]
search, under FOIA, is not unreasonable simply because it
fails to produce all relevant material.").
agency has discretion to craft its search to meet this
standard, and does not have to search every system if
additional searches are unlikely to produce any marginal
return. See Campbell v. Dep 't of Justice, 164
F.3d 20, 28 (D.C. Cir. 1998). Searching for records requires
"both systemic and case-specific exercises of discretion
and administrative judgment and expertise, " and is
"hardly an area in which the courts should attempt to
micro-manage the executive branch." Schrecker v.
Dep't of Justice, 349 F.3d 657, 662 (D.C. Cir.
2003). To demonstrate the reasonableness of its search, an
agency can submit a "reasonably detailed affidavit,
setting forth the search terms and the type of search
performed, and averring that all files likely to contain
responsive materials (if such records exist) were
searched." Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68. Agency
declarations are given "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, 1201 (D.C. Cir. 1991).
Sullivan found that the declaration supporting the original
motion for summary judgment lacked sufficient detail in two
respects. First, it did not aver that all files likely to
contain responsive materials were searched, which Judge
Sullivan found particularly troubling in light of the fact
that it appeared materials in the DISAIG database might be
located in two separate locations and it was not clear
whether both had been searched. Op. at 10-11 (citing
Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68). Second, it did not specify
all of the search terms used in responding to Ms.
Walston's FOIA request. Op. at 11-12 (citing
Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 68).
Defendants have remedied the inadequacies of their original
affidavit, providing additional affidavits that supply the
search details Judge Sullivan found lacking. In response to
Ms. Walston's first FOIA request to DISA, DISA determined
that any responsive records would be under the purview of the
IG's office. Berger Decl. ¶ 5. The IG then used the
search terms "Walston, " "Linda Walston,
" "Linda, " and "2014-0193" to
search "all electronic records on the DISA IG share
drive, DIGit database, and individual investigator
computers." Christy Decl. ¶ 4. This search was
conducted in the DISA IG offices in Fort Meade, Maryland, and
covered "the entire universe of files" likely to
contain responsive records. Id. Ms. Walston does not
dispute that these affidavits demonstrate the adequacy of the
search conducted in response to her first FOIA request.
Ms. Walston challenges the adequacy of the searches conducted
in response to her second set of FOIA requests, which
specifically asked that the records of four agencies within
DISA be searched: NIC, COLSNA, IRB, and DISA ESD. The
Defendants have submitted an affidavit explaining that
DISA's FOIA officer confirmed NIC had no involvement with
the investigation and determined that no further search of
NIC records was necessary. Berger Decl. ¶ 12. The
affidavit also explains that Ms. Walston's requests for
searches of COLSNA and DISA ESD records were duplicative
because DISA ESD has been incorporated into COLSNA.
Id. ¶ 11. Accordingly, the Defendants responded
to Ms. Walston's second set of FOIA requests by searching
for responsive COLSNA and IRB records.
Defendants searched COLSNA's paper files, a computer hard
drive, shared drives, and emails using the search terms
"Walston" and "2014-0193." Ball Decl.
¶ 6. The search was conducted in Columbus, Ohio, and
included "the entire universe of locations where records
responsive to Plaintiffs FOIA [request] would exist at
COLSNA." Id. The Defendants determined that the
IRB investigator who worked on Ms. Walston's complaint
did not create or maintain any documents or records related
to the complaint other than emails, and they searched his
emails from his office in "Chambesburg [sic],
Pennsylvania" using the search terms "Walston,
" "2014-0193, " "Corey, " and
"Ball." Shuhart Decl. ¶ 5. The Defendants aver
that their searches for responsive COLSNA and IRB records
produced no new records that were not already located in the
search of ...