United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
A. HOWELL CHIEF JUDGE.
before this Court is the defendants' Motion to Sever
Claims pertaining to eighteen Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) requests, which all seek virtually the
same, straightforward, basic information from seventeen
defendant federal agencies about the political appointees
entering the Trump Administration. See Defs.'
Mot. Sever Claims and Stay Defs.' Resp. to Compl.
(“Defs.' Mot.”) at 1, 3, ECF No.
These FOIA requests were all submitted by the same plaintiff,
American Oversight, “a nonpartisan, non-profit section
501(c)(3) organization primarily engaged in disseminating
information to the public, ” with one request filed on
March 8, 2017, sixteen requests filed on the same date eight
months later on November 28, 2017, and the final request
filed on December 18, 2018. Compl. ¶¶ 5-24, ECF No.
Each request asks for basic information about political
appointees joining the Trump Administration, including names,
position titles, resumes, and conflicts or ethics
information. Id. Despite the fact that one of these
requests has been pending for over one year and the others
for at least five months, the defendants have failed to
respond to the requests, which could shed valuable light on
the qualifications and backgrounds of government officials in
the current Administration.
defendants argue in their pending Motion that the plaintiff
has “impermissibly joined” the claims against the
agencies in this case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
20, as “[t]he Complaint does not allege any concerted
action by these separate agencies in responding to the
requests.” Defs.' Mot. at 1; see Fed. R.
Civ. P. 20(a)(2). Further, the defendants contend that,
“even if the requirements of Rule 20 are satisfied,
” severance is warranted under Rule 21 to
“promote efficiency.” Defs.' Mot. at 9;
see Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. The defendants are wrong, as
explained more fully below, and their Motion to Sever Claims
“FOIA's prodisclosure purpose, ”
Nat'l Archives & Records Admin. v. Favish,
541 U.S. 157, 174 (2004), ensures “a means for citizens
to know ‘what the Government is up to, '”
id. at 171 (quoting U.S. Dep't of Justice v.
Reporters Comm. For Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 773, 749
(1989)). “This phrase should not be dismissed as a
convenient formalism. It defines a structural necessity in a
real democracy.” Id. at 171-72. To
“reveal who is doing the political work at federal
agencies under the Trump Administration, what their
qualifications are, and what they have been authorized to
work on, ” Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Defs.' Mot.
Sever Claims and Stay Defs.' Resp. to Compl.
(“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 3, ECF No. 9, the
plaintiff submitted FOIA requests to the seventeen defendants
1) the names and position titles of any employees in a PAS,
presidentially appointed, non-career SES, Schedule C, or any
‘political appointee' position; 2) the names and
any position titles of all career employees detailed into a
leadership office or component; 3) the names and position
titles of anyone on the beachhead teams, or with a temporary
or provisional appointment who assumed a full-time permanent
position; 4) any resumes, conflicts or ethics waivers or
authorizations, recusal determinations, and SF-50 forms for
all individuals identified in response to parts 1 to 3 of the
Compl. ¶ 24.
plaintiff's requests submitted in November and December
were a “second round” of FOIA requests, Pl.'s
Opp'n at 3, since earlier FOIA requests for essentially
the same information that had been submitted to many of the
same agencies had already resulted in the disclosure of the
names and qualifications of the political appointees for
earlier date ranges. See Compl. ¶ 25 (noting
that “[m]any of these FOIA requests were follow-up
requests to a series of requests submitted by [the plaintiff]
earlier in the Trump Administration, ” but the
“date range of the records sought in these requests
varied based on the date range covered by the records
produced in response to that first round of requests”);
Pl.'s Opp'n at 1 (noting that, after filing an
earlier lawsuit, eight agencies produced records in response
to the plaintiff's first round of “baseline”
requests, resulting in a voluntarily dismissal of the suit
(citing Joint Stipulation of Voluntary Dismissal, Am.
Oversight v. Dep't of the Interior, Civ. No. 17-958
(RBW) (D.D.C. Oct. 5, 2017), ECF No. 12)).
plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on March 22, 2018,
alleging that the defendants failed to comply with the
applicable time-limit provisions for FOIA relating to these
requests. Compl. ¶ 4. According to the plaintiff, most
defendants have only assigned a tracking number to the
request and otherwise not responded, with a few defendants
seeking clarification or responding to certain distinct
aspects. Compl. ¶¶ 26-57. Although the
defendants' Answer to the Complaint was due on May 9,
2018, the defendants instead filed the pending Motion to
Sever Claims on May 8, 2018. Defs.' Mot. at 3. With the
parties' consent, the Court stayed the defendants'
response to the Complaint until resolution of this pending
Motion. Min. Order (dated May 9, 2018).
Rule of Civil Procedure 20 provides that “[p]ersons . .
. may be joined in one action as defendants if” two
criteria are satisfied. Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2). First,
“any right to relief is asserted against them jointly,
severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising
out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of
transactions or occurrences.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)(A).
Second, “any question of law or fact common to all
defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
satisfy the first requirement, claims against multiple
defendants must have a “logical relationship.”
Moore v. New York Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 610
(1926); Martinez v. Dep't of Justice, 324 F.R.D.
33, 36 (D.D.C. 2018). “The logical relationship test is
flexible because ‘the impulse is toward entertaining
the broadest possible scope of action consistent with
fairness to the parties; joinder of claims, parties and
remedies is strongly encouraged.'” Disparte v.
Corp. Exec. Bd., 223 F.R.D. 7, 10 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting
United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715,
724 (1966)). The second requirement of Rule 20(a)(2) permits
joinder where “at least one issue of law or fact will
generally be common to all defendants.” AF
Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1058, 752 F.3d 990, 997 (D.C.
Rules further provide that “the court may . . . on just
terms, add or drop a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Although
Rule 21 deals primarily with misjoinder or nonjoinder of
parties, this Rule also “authorizes the severance of
any claim, even without a finding of improper joinder, where
there are sufficient other reasons for ordering a
severance.” Wyndham Assocs. v. Bintliff, 398
F.2d 614, 618 (2d Cir. 1968); see also Applewhite v.
Reichhold Chems., Inc., 67 F.3d 571, 574 (5th Cir. 1995)
(holding that Rule 21 gives the court “discretion to
sever an action if it . . . might otherwise cause delay or
prejudice”); Otis Clapp & Son, Inc. v. Filmore
Vitamin Co., 754 F.2d 738, 743 (7th Cir. 1985)
(“Rule 21 gives the court discretion to sever any claim
and proceed with it separately if doing so will increase
judicial economy and avoid prejudice to the litigants.”
(quoting 6 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice &
Procedure § 1591, at 823)).