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Braun v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 30, 2018

DAVID S. BRAUN, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff David Steven Braun requested information from the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (“FOIA”), and Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. USPS conducted what it considers to be a reasonable search in response to those requests and released the records that were not otherwise exempt from disclosure. USPS now moves for summary judgment, arguing that it has discharged its FOIA responsibilities. Mr. Braun also moves for summary judgment, requesting that the Court award him damages in the amount of $3 million dollars a year for the remainder of his life.

         Upon consideration of the parties' cross motions, the oppositions and replies thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court GRANTS USPS's motion for summary judgement and DENIES Mr. Braun's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Braun, appearing pro se, filed his complaint against USPS and the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) on October 17, 2016. See Compl., ECF No. 1 at 1.[1] Mr. Braun alleges that he made at least three requests for records under the Privacy Act or FOIA to two different components of USPS: the USPS Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) and the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) . See Id. at 13-58.[2] The relief sought by Mr. Braun is not wholly clear. Under a section titled “Requested Goal off this suite, ” Mr. Braun requests “that all records denied in this and previous request's be reviewed and processed for criminal/negligent behavior.” See Id. at 12.[3] He further states that “[t]heir seams to be this database, record issues, that might also need a court order from a Federal Judge.” Id. Finally, he requests monetary damages “to compensate [him] for the negligence and malicious behavior and damaged caused buy the issues brought to light in this suite.” Id.

         On January 30, 2017, OMB moved to dismiss all of Mr. Braun's claims, and USPS moved to dismiss everything except Mr. Braun's Privacy Act claims. See OMB Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 22; USPS Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 23. The Court granted both defendants' motions, finding that Mr. Braun had failed to plausibly state a claim that entitled him to relief. See Braun v. United States Postal Service, 2017 WL 4325645 (D.D.C. Sept. 27, 2017). Accordingly, the only claims remaining are Mr. Braun's claims under the Privacy Act against USPS.

         On December 8, 2017, USPS filed its motion for summary judgment as to these remaining claims. See USPS Summ. J. Mot., ECF No. 52. USPS also submitted a statement of facts (“SMF”) in support of that motion. See id., ECF No. 52 at 5-15. On January 15, 2018, Mr. Braun filed his opposition and cross-motion for summary judgment. See Braun Opp. to Mot. (“Braun Opp.”), ECF No. 53. Mr. Braun did not provide a response to USPS's statement of material facts. The parties completed briefing their motions on February 9, 2018, and the motions are ripe for resolution.


         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; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Likewise, in ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 658 F.Supp.2d 217, 224 (D.D.C. 2009) (citation omitted). 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).

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must conduct a de novo review of the record. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). In a suit seeking agency documents - whether under the Privacy Act or FOIA - “the court may rely on 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” in granting summary judgment. Chambers v. U.S. Dep't. of Interior, 568 F.3d 998, 1003 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Such affidavits or declarations are “accorded 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, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Moreover, “[i]n determining a motion for summary judgment, the Court may assume the facts identified by the moving party in its statement of material facts are admitted, unless such a fact is controverted in the statement of genuine issues filed in opposition to the motion.” Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1).

         III. ANALYSIS

         As a preliminary matter, although Mr. Braun made requests pursuant to the Privacy Act for certain records, the record systems holding those records are exempt from the requirements of the Privacy Act. See SMF ¶¶ 9-13, 36-38, ECF No. 52 at 6-7, 11-12. Because USPS proceeded to examine any responsive records for release pursuant to FOIA, the Court shall analyze the propriety of USPS's response under FOIA.

         A. Adequacy of Searches

         “An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was ‘reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'” Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). “‘[T]he issue is not whether any further documents might conceivably exist but rather whether the government's search for responsive documents was adequate.'” Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (quoting Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 128 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). The standard is one of “reasonableness” and is “dependent upon the circumstances of the case.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). To establish the adequacy of its search, an agency “may rely upon affidavits to show it has conducted a reasonable search, as long as they are ‘relatively detailed' and nonconclusory and . . . submitted in good faith.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). If the requestor is able to produce ‚Äúcountervailing ...

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