United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, challenges
the way that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has
responded to its Freedom of Information Act request for
records related to Russian interference in the 2016
presidential election. EPIC questions the adequacy of the
FBI's search for responsive records, the propriety of the
FBI's withholdings and redactions, and the accuracy of
the FBI's segregability determination. But because the
FBI has shown that it conducted an adequate search and that
it properly withheld and redacted non-segregable records
under FOIA Exemptions 1, 3, and 7(A), the FBI's Motion
for Summary Judgment will be granted and EPIC's
Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.
FOIA request states generally that it “seeks records
pertaining to the FBI's investigation of Russian
interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”
EPIC's FOIA Request 1, attached to Mot. Summary J. Decl.
of David M. Hardy (Hardy Decl.) as Ex. A. It provides several
pages of background to the request, explaining EPIC's
interest in Russian cyber attacks on the Republican National
Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Id. at
1-5. It then makes itemized records requests for:
(1) All records, including but not limited to, memos,
reports, guidelines, procedures, summaries, and emails
pertaining to the FBI's investigation of
Russian-sponsored cyber attack on the RNC, DNC, and DCCC.
(2) All records of communications to the RNC, DNC, and DCCC
regarding the threat of Russian interference in the 2016
(3) All records of communications with other federal agencies
regarding Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential
(4) All records including, but not limited to, memos,
reports, guidelines, and procedures pertaining to the
FBI's procedure to notify targets of cyber attacks.
Id. at 6. The FBI searched for responsive records,
but withheld all records responsive to Items 1-3 and heavily
redacted some records responsive to Item 4. The FBI seeks
summary judgment, arguing that it conducted an adequate
search; that its withholdings and redactions are necessary to
protect an ongoing investigation, to protect classified
information, and to protect intelligence sources and methods;
and that it has released all reasonably segregable
information to EPIC. EPIC also seeks summary judgment,
arguing that the FBI has not made an adequate showing on any
of these issues.
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 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)
(creating a disclosure obligation only where a request
“reasonably describes” the records sought). Thus,
a FOIA defendant is entitled to summary judgment if it shows
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). Courts decide the “vast majority” of FOIA
cases on motions for summary judgment. See Brayton v.
Office of United States Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527
(D.C. Cir. 2011).
that any 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.
that any unproduced documents are unidentifiable, a defendant
must show “a good faith effort to  search for the
requested records, using methods which can be reasonably
expected to produce the information requested.”
Oglesby v. Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68
(D.C. Cir. 1990). In other words, the defendant must
“demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was
reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant
documents.” Nation Magazine v. Customs Serv.,
71 F.3d 885, 890 (D.C. Cir. 1995). The touchstone of the
analysis is the reasonableness of the search, not the records
produced. See Hodge v. FBI, 703 F.3d 575, 580 (D.C.
Cir. 2013) (“[T]he adequacy of a search is determined
not by the fruits of the search, but by the appropriateness
of [its] methods.”); Mobley v. CIA, 806 F.3d
568, 583 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“[A] search, under FOIA, is
not unreasonable simply because it fails to produce all
agency may exercise discretion in crafting its search to meet
this standard, and does not have to search every system if
additional searches are unlikely to produce any marginal
return. See Campbell v. Dep't of Justice, 164
F.3d 20, 28 (D.C. Cir. 1998). 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 prove 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