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Jarvis v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 23, 2018

DEREK N. JARVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EMMET G. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Derek N. Jarvis brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the Commissioner of Social Security (“SSA”). This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 10]. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff submitted two FOIA requests to the SSA. The first he sent to SSA's office in Gwynn Oak, Maryland, seeking “all document(s) relating to, and pertaining to Derek N. Jarvis . . . as a result of [SSA's] rejecting [his] disability claims for (9) years, while mostly Caucasian Claimants receive disability from SSA for much lesser medical conditions[.]” Compl., Ex. (Letter to SSA from plaintiff dated December 23, 2016).

         SSA notified plaintiff that his request properly should be directed to SSA's field office in Seabrook, Maryland because it “has the jurisdiction of his disability applications and application related records.” Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”), Ex. 4 (“Chyn Decl.”) ¶ 7; see id., Ex. 1 (Letter to plaintiff from Mary Ann Zimmerman, Acting Privacy Officer, SSA, dated February 28, 2017).

         “Even though [plaintiff] failed to address [his] request[] for information to the Seabrook, Maryland SSA address, ” SSA “prepared a copy of [its] electronic file on a CD for [plaintiff] and sent it to him via UPS on January 18, 2018[.]” Id., Ex. 2 (“Cassetta Decl.”) ¶ 4.

         In his second FOIA request, plaintiff sought:

information[] that establishes the percentage of blacks who are awarded and rejected disability benefits, and the percentage of whites who are awarded and rejected disability benefits, and in addition to that . . . any information regarding illegal immigrants awarded benefits

Id., Ex. (Letter to SSA from plaintiff dated December 29, 2016). SSA informed plaintiff that it does “not keep records of disability awards and denials based on race or immigration status.” Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3 (Letter to plaintiff from Monica Chyn, Acting Freedom of Information Officer, SSA, dated May 12, 2017); see Cassetta Decl. ¶ 4. SSA advised plaintiff of his right to challenge this determination by filing an administrative appeal in writing to the Executive Director for the Office of Privacy and Disclosure. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3. SSA found “no indication that [plaintiff] filed an appeal of [its] responses to his December 23 and/or 29, 2016 FOIA request(s).” Chyn Decl. ¶ 9.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         A FOIA case typically and appropriately is decided on a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Gold Anti-Trust Action Comm., Inc. v. Bd. of Governors of the Fed. Reserve Sys., 762 F.Supp.2d 123, 130 (D.D.C. 2011) (citations omitted). Summary judgment is granted when 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(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Under FOIA, all underlying facts and inferences are analyzed in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester; as such, only after an agency proves that it has fully discharged its FOIA obligations is summary judgment appropriate. Moore v. Aspin, 916 F.Supp. 32, 35 (D.D.C. 1996) (citing Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983)).

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment under FOIA, the court conducts a de novo review of the record. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). The court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the agency in an affidavit or declaration. See Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). An agency's affidavit or declaration must be “relatively detailed and non-conclusory.” SafeCard Services v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). It is accorded a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by “purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.” Id. (citing Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981) (per curiam)).

         B. Exhaustion of ...


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