United States District Court, District of Columbia
RICHARD J. LEON United States District Judge
Knowles ("Knowles" or "plaintiff), appearing
pro se, sues the United States Department of State
("State Department" or "defendant") under
the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C.
§ 552. The State Department has released responsive
records and has moved for summary judgment under Rule 56 of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Def.'s
Mot. Summ. J. [Dkt. #19]. Plaintiff has filed a motion for
the Court to take judicial notice of "a stipulated
fact" that is not clearly defined. See
Pet'r Requesting Court to Take Judicial Notice [Dkt. #
24]. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the
record, and the relevant case law, the Court finds no genuine
dispute surrounding defendant's compliance with the FOIA.
Therefore, defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED and plaintiffs Motion to Take Judicial Notice is
documented facts are as follows. In a FOIA request dated
January 22, 2014, plaintiff sought:
1) any and all information regarding communications between
the Bahamian authorities and the United States Drug
Enforcement Agency about [plaintiffs] transport to the United
States. 2) Any and all information regarding the diplomatic
process involved in [plaintiffs] extradition from the Bahamas
to the United States. 3) The names of all U.S. and Bahamian
agents and personnel involved in the scheduling and execution
of the flight.
Decl. of Eric F. Stein ("Stein Decl."), Ex. 1, at 1
[Dkt. # 19-4].
State Department released responsive records between May 2015
and March 2017. On May 9, 2015, it released seven documents,
four with redactions. Stein Decl. ¶ 6. On December 21,
2016, it released twenty-one documents, fourteen with
redactions, and withheld six documents completely.
Id. ¶ 9. On January 31, 2017, it released five
documents, one with redactions, and withheld one document
completely. Id.¶ 11. The State Department
withheld information under FOIA exemptions 1, 5, 6, and 7(C),
codified in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). See Id.
addition, the State Department referred a "one page
extradition memorandum" to the Drug Enforcement
Administration ("DEA"), which, on March 13, 2017,
released the document with third-party names redacted under
FOIA exemptions 7(C) and 7(F). Decl. of Katherine L. Myrick
¶¶ 8-9 ("Myrick Decl.") [Dkt. # 19-6].
Defendant also referred eighteen documents, totaling
forty-one pages, to the Department of Justice's Criminal
Division, which withheld them in full under FOIA exemptions
5, 6 and 7(C)., Decl. of Gail A. Brodfuehrer ¶ 8
("Brodfuehrer Decl.") [Dkt. # 19-5].
judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows 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). FOIA cases are routinely decided on
motions for summary judgment. See Brayton v. Office of
U.S. Trade Representative, 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir.
requires executive branch agencies to make their records
available 'to any person' upon request, 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(a)(3)(A), subject to nine exemptions, id.
§ 552(b)(1)-(9)." Newport Aeronautical Sales v.
Dep't of Air Force, 684 F.3d 160, 162 (D.C. Cir.
2012). To prevail on summary judgment in a FOIA case, an
agency must show that it adequately searched for records
responsive to the relevant request and that any records
withheld by the agency fall within one of FOIA's
statutory exemptions. See id.; Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't
of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
agency seeking to satisfy that burden "[t]ypically . . .
does so by affidavit." Am. Civil Liberties Union v.
U.S. Dep't of Defense, 628 F.3d 612, 619 (D.C. Cir.
2011). "If an agency's affidavit describes the
justifications for withholding the information with specific
detail, demonstrates that the information withheld logically
falls within the claimed exemption, and is not contradicted
by contrary evidence in the record or by evidence of the
agency's bad faith, then summary judgment is warranted on
the basis of the affidavit alone." Id. Provided
that they are accordingly detailed, agency affidavits
"cannot be rebutted by 'purely speculative claims
about the existence and discoverability of other
documents.'" Mobley v. CIA, 806 F.3d 568,
581 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting SafeCard Servs., Inc. v.
SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). Indeed,
"[t]o successfully challenge an agency's showing
that it complied with the FOIA, the plaintiff must come
forward with 'specific facts' demonstrating that
there is a genuine issue with respect to whether the agency
has improperly withheld extant agency records." Span
v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 696 F.Supp.2d 113, 119
has listed "issues of disputed material facts, "
which essentially challenge both the search for responsive
records and the withholding of information. Pl.'s Br.
Opp'n to Def's Summ. J. Motion ("Pl.'s
Opp'n"), Attach. A, Stmt, of Disputed Factual Issues
1 [Dkt. # 21]. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiffs
challenges all fail.
The Adequacy of the Search
satisfy its obligations under the FOIA, an agency must
perform an adequate search for records responsive to the
relevant request. Burwell v. Exec. Office for U.S,
Atty's,210 F.Supp.3d 33, 36-37 (D.D.C. 2016)
(citation omitted). "The adequacy of an agency's
search is measured by a standard of reasonableness and is
dependent upon the circumstances of the case."
Weisberg, 705 F.2d at 1351 (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted). An agency "fulfills its
obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material
doubt that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover
all relevant documents." Ancient Coin Collectors
Guildv. U.S. Dep't of State,641 F.3d 504, 514 (D.C.
Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The adequacy
of an agency's search "is generally determined not
by the fruits of the search, but by the appropriateness of
the methods used to carry out the search." Iturralde ...