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Jarvis v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 24, 2018

DEREK N. JARVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Derek N. Jarvis brings this action against the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552. This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 8. For the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS defendant's motion.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         By letter dated November 22, 2016, plaintiff sent a request to HUD for “all document(s) related to Derek N. Jarvis, and Shirley J. Pittman, and record(s) related to Jarvis and Pittman, ” including phone records, emails, and letters. Compl., Ex. 1 (exhibit numbers designated by the court). Roughly three months later, plaintiff sent a second letter to HUD which in relevant part stated:

On November 22, 2016, I submitted a letter to HUD requesting all records, documents, emails[, ] phone records, logs[, ] etc., pertaining to Derek Jarvis. Derek Jarvis has filed several complaints with HUD against Landlords since 2006, and the agency has failed to enforce housing violations and discrimination that he has been subjected to, engaging in fraud and possible conspiracy.
It has now been approximately, (3) months since I first requested this information . . ., and I have not received any information from HUD . . . . HUD had engaged in fraudulent practices during the prior administration and refused to enforce housing violations and in some cases which I experienced facilitated the housing violations by landlords.

Id., Ex. 2. Plaintiff sent both requests to HUD's Secretary “by first class postal mail to HUD's Washington[, ] DC address on 451 7th Street, S.W.” Jarvis Decl. ¶ 5.[2] He filed this civil action on August 28, 2017, by which time HUD had not responded to either request. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.

         II. DISCUSSION

         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 Serv., Inc. 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)).

         HUD argues that it was under no obligation to search for or to release records because it did not receive either the November 22, 2016 or the February 16, 2017 request. In support of its motion, HUD submits the declaration of Deborah R. Snowden, Deputy Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer in the Office of the Executive Secretariat. Ms. Snowden explains HUD's procedures for processing FOIA requests as follows:

2. When a FOIA request is received by HUD, it is first entered into the FOlA Management System (“FMS”) and assigned a FOIA control number . . . . Requests submitted . . . through the mail are date-stamped upon receipt and immediately forwarded to appropriate staff for entry into FMS. The request is then analyzed and assigned to a [Government Information Specialist] to process. An acknowledgement letter is sent to the requester within 24 hours of receipt detailing the date the request was received, the FOIA control number assigned to the request, and an overview of HUD's FOIA processing timeline. Once a request has been assigned a FOIA control number, it can be tracked through FMS at all stages of processing, including after the request has been closed. All requests logged into FMS contain the request date, the receipt date, the requester's name and contact information, and a description of the records being sought. A request can be located using any of these identifiers, as well as the assigned control number.
3. All FOIA requests received by [HUD], regardless of the office to which they are addressed, are immediately routed to the FOIA Branch for intake and processing. Requests addressed to the Office of the Secretary (“OSEC”) are treated no differently. Upon receipt of any correspondence marked as a FOIA request - or any correspondence construed as a request for agency records, even if not marked as such - OSEC will ...

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