Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ibrahim v. United States Department of State

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 7, 2018

ZEAD KHALAF IBRAHIM, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Zead Khalaf Ibrahim lives in Jordan as an Iraqi political refugee. He tried to come to the United States, but the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service denied his I-590 Iraqi Resettlement Application and, subsequently, denied his Request for Reconsideration of that denial. At issue in this case is the Department of State's response to Mr. Ibrahim's Freedom of Information Act requests for all records in the Department's possession related to the denial of his application and the denial of his Request for Reconsideration. The Department of State has produced some responsive records and has redacted or withheld other records. Before this Court are the Department of State's motion for summary judgment and Mr. Ibrahim's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. Because some exemptions that the Department of State invokes properly apply but others do not, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, as will the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Ibrahim alleges that he is a Sunni Muslim who openly supported the American presence in Iraq in the early 2000s and who did business with Americans and non-Muslims at his grocery and convenience store. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 9. Mr. Ibrahim alleges that religious militias in Iraq warned him to stop doing business with Christians and with American soldiers and that they kidnapped and beat him twice. Id. ¶¶ 11-13. He also alleges that he fled from Iraq to Jordan with his family after receiving death threats and being shot by an unknown man. Id. ¶¶ 15-20.

         Mr. Ibrahim submitted an I-590 Iraqi Resettlement Application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Id. ¶¶ 21, 24. The USCIS denied Mr. Ibrahim's resettlement application in November, 2010. Id. ¶ 24. Almost a year later, in September 2011, the UNHCR certified Mr. Ibrahim as a refugee. Id. ¶ 21. In October 2011, Mr. Ibrahim submitted his first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of State, requesting all records in its possession related to the USCIS's denial of his Resettlement Application. Id. ¶ 30; id. Ex. B 2.

         In 2014, Mr. Ibrahim submitted a Request for Reconsideration to the USCIS, arguing that it erroneously denied his Resettlement Application and that it should consider new evidence. Id. ¶ 26. At least part of the new evidence in question appears to be Mr. Ibrahim's diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he says “explains Mr. Ibrahim's inability to recall particular facts about his abductions and also explains any inconsistencies in his original Resettlement Application.” Id. ¶ 25. The USCIS denied Mr. Ibrahim's Request for Reconsideration in April 2014. Id. ¶ 27. In January, 2015, Mr. Ibrahim made a second FOIA request, asking for all records related to the denial of reconsideration as well as all records related to the initial denial of his Resettlement Application. Id. Ex. B 1.

         Unsatisfied with the Department of State's response to his FOIA requests, Mr. Ibrahim filed this lawsuit. After discussing the case with Mr. Ibrahim, the Department of State performed a supplemental search, produced additional records, and informed Mr. Ibrahim that it had withheld other records under FOIA's exemptions. Def.'s Memo. ISO Mot. Summary J. 2-3; Pl.'s Memo. ISO Cross-Mot. Summary J. 6-7. The parties have agreed that certain redactions are appropriate under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C) and have narrowed the issues in dispute so that the only question now before me is whether FOIA Exemptions 3, 5, and 7(E) properly apply to four documents that the Department of State withheld or redacted: (1) Document C06268823, which is the UNHCR's Resettlement Registration Form for Mr. Ibrahim; (2) Document C06268856, which is the USCIS's Refugee Application Assessment for Mr. Ibrahim; (3) Document C062658852, which is the USCIS's official assessment of Mr. Ibrahim's Request for Reconsideration; and (4) Document C06268858, which is a chronology of the USCIS's processing of Mr. Ibrahim's case. See Pl.'s Memo. ISO Cross-Mot. Summary J. 15.[1] The Department of State produced these documents to the Court for in camera review and indicated on the face of the redacted documents which exemptions formed the basis for which redactions. I have reviewed the in camera filing as well as the parties' briefing and relevant law.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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). 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 about 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 United States Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). To show that unproduced documents are exempt from FOIA, an agency may file “affidavits describing the material withheld and the manner in which it falls within the exemption claimed.” King v. Dep't of Justice, 830 F.2d 210, 217 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Courts review the applicability of FOIA exemptions de novo but give “substantial weight to detailed agency explanations” of national security concerns related to FOIA disclosures. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. FOIA Exemption 3 Does Not Apply to Any of the Withholdings or Redactions

         Under FOIA Exemption 3, information that must be withheld from the public under another statute is not subject to FOIA and thus may be completely withheld. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3)(A)(i). Section 222(f) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) requires the withholding of Department of State records “pertaining to the issuance or refusal of visas or permits to enter the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1202(f). FOIA Exemption 3 applies to records subject to Section 222(f) of the INA. See, e.g., Medina-Hincapie v. Dep't of State, 700 F.2d 737, 741-42 (D.C. Cir. 1983). In addition to protecting information supplied by the individual seeking to enter the United States, Section 222(f) protects “information revealing the thought-processes of those who rule on the application.” Id. at 744.

         The Department of State argues that all of its withholdings and redactions fall within the scope of Exemption 3 because they all involve information “pertaining to the issuance or refusal of visas or permits to enter the United States.” Def.'s Memo. ISO Mot. Summary J. 6-9. The Department originally took the view that information related to the denial of Mr. Ibrahim's Resettlement Application “pertains directly to the issuance or refusal of a visa to enter the United States.” Notice of Filing Vaughn Declaration Ex. 1 ¶¶ 7-8; id. Ex. 2 ¶¶ 10-11. But the Department has since abandoned the notion that Resettlement Applications request visas. See Def.'s Reply ISO Mot. Summary J. 6 (stating “refugees entering the United States do not receive visas”). The Department's new position is that Mr. Ibrahim's Resettlement Application sought “permission to travel to the United States through a letter issued by the Department of State, i.e. a permit.” Id. Thus, the Department concludes that information related to the denial of his Resettlement Application falls within the scope of Section 222(f) and Exemption 3 because it pertains to the denial of a permit. Id.

         But the Department has cited no authority in direct support of this position. Instead, the Department asks me to rely on a declaration from its Director of the Office of Admissions asserting that the documents at issue here “pertain to the issuance or refusal of a permit to enter the United States.” Id. at 8 (quoting id. Ex. 2 Declaration of Lawrence E. Bartlett (Bartlett Decl.) ¶ 14). A declaration by an interested party cannot establish legal conclusions and does not adequately prove that Exemption 3 applies to records related to Resettlement Applications. SeeStolt-Nielsen Transp. Grp., Ltd. v. United States, 534 F.3d 728, 735 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (holding that agency's declaration could not decide a question of law in a FOIA case). Ultimately, legal conclusions about the scope of a statute are the province of the courts, not of bureaucrats. The Department also urges me to interpret Section 222(f) broadly, citing opinions that note the confidentiality of “all matters covered by the statute” and the broad nature of the statute's phrase “pertaining to.” Def.'s ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.