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DeFraia v. Central Intelligence Agency

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 30, 2018

DANIEL CHARLES DeFRAIA, Plaintiff,
v.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Plaintiff in this case, Daniel DeFraia, seeks specific records under the Freedom of Information Act related to the Central Intelligence Agency's former detention and interrogation program. The requested records have been separated into two categories, and both parties have moved for partial summary judgment on the first category, as the CIA continues to process and produce records from the second. I conclude that the CIA is entitled to partial summary judgment, because the parties have agreed to narrow the FOIA requests at issue to specified contracts and the records “cited in” a specified Senate committee report, and the CIA has produced all of the required records in those agreed-upon sets.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 2014, Mr. DeFraia sent the CIA a FOIA request seeking “a) all CIA contracts with Bruce Jessen, b) all CIA contracts with James Mitchell, c) contract information between Jessen and Mitchell, d) contracts between the CIA and Mitchell, Jessen[, ] and AMP Associates, and e) [] all information related to [] Jessen and [] Mitchell and their interaction with detainees including interrogation.” Compl. 4; Decl. of Antoinette Shiner, Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1, Exhibit A at 25, ECF No. 16-1 (the 2014 Request). “Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen were contractors employed by the CIA to assist in interrogating CIA detainees under the CIA's former detention and interrogation program.” Shiner Decl. ¶ 26. In May 2015, Mr. DeFraia sent another request asking for five categories of records that had been “cited in” or “stated in” the declassified portion of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on that program. Shiner Decl. Ex. H, ECF No. 16-1 at 40 (the 2015 Request); see also Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program (Senate Report), available at https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/ documents/CRPT-113srpt288.pdf (last visited April 26, 2018). Having received no documents in response to either request, Mr. DeFraia filed suit in September 2016.

         In a Joint Status Report submitted in December 2016, the parties informed the Court that “[w]ith respect to the first category of records sought [in the 2014 Request], the parties have agreed to refine the scope of the request as seeking contracts between (1) the CIA and (2) Bruce Jessen and/or James Mitchell and/or Mitchell Jessen & Associates from 2001-2009 that relate to the CIA's rendition, detention, and interrogation program.” ECF No. 7 at 2 (Joint Status Report). Both sides agreed to exclude a laundry list of sensitive information “from Defendant's initial production of records responsive to this category, ” such as the names and contact information of CIA personnel. Id. at 2-3. The CIA had already produced these exact documents for another litigation, [1] and so anticipated providing responsive records within two weeks, after which the Plaintiff “reserve[d] the right to request that CIA produce certain redacted material.” Joint Status Report at 3. As for the 2015 Request, “the parties [] agreed that the request will be processed as written.” Id.

         After productions from the CIA, both parties filed motions for summary judgment on the first portion of the 2014 Request and the full 2015 request. Mem. In Support of Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J.) at 1-2, ECF No. 15; Mem. In Support of Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. (Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J.), ECF No. 19. Production on the second portion of the 2014 Request is ongoing. See Order, ECF No. 28 at 1-2 (setting a production schedule that ends on June 29, 2018).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         To 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); Celotex 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).

         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). “[S]ummary judgment . . . is warranted if the affidavits describe the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith.” Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The CIA contends that it has fully complied with its pertinent FOIA obligations, supported by a declaration from Ms. Antoinette Shiner, the Information Review Officer for the CIA's Litigation Information Review Office. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 (Shiner Decl.). But Mr. DeFraia argues that the CIA's description of its search methodology is legally inadequate, and that the CIA has failed “to follow-up on clear leads indicating the existence of additional [responsive] agency records.” Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 9; Supp. Decl. of Daniel DeFraia, Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. (Supp. DeFraia Decl).[2] He also asks for in camera review to verify that the CIA has properly invoked two FOIA exemptions. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 13-15. Based on the governing language of Mr. DeFraia's requests, I conclude that the CIA has provided every legally required record, and that no basis exists for in camera review of the CIA's work.

         A. The CIA Has Produced the “Contracts” Listed in the 2014 Request

         The parties have expressly agreed, in a document signed by attorneys for both sides, that the scope of the first portion of Mr. DeFraia's 2014 Request is limited to “contracts between (1) the CIA and (2) Bruce Jessen and/or James Mitchell and/or Mitchell Jessen & Associates from 2001-2009 that relate to the CIA's rendition, detention, and interrogation program, ” with specific, agreed-upon redactions. Joint Status Report at 2. Immediately after the parties agreed to this narrowed scope, the CIA produced all of the CIA contracts at issue. Shiner Decl. ¶ 22. The contracts were redacted as specified in the Joint Status Report, and the CIA invoked no additional exemptions. Id.

         Mr. DeFraia still wants to enforce the scope of his original 2014 Request, which was somewhat broader, and he therefore demands “additional documents” to which the contracts “directly refer.” Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 10 (“[t]he portion of the . . . 2014 Request at issue herein sought “all contract information”). But it is the Joint Status Report, not Mr. DeFraia's original request, that controls. 5 U.S.C. § 552(4)(A)(viii)(II)(bb), (6)(B)(ii) (both referring to a FOIA requestor's ability to later “limit the scope of the request”); Gilman v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 32 F.Supp.3d 1, 22 (D.D.C. 2014) ...


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