United States District Court, District of Columbia
WILLIAM E. POWELL, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL, et al., Defendants.
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
latest of a multitude of Freedom of Information Act suits,
pro se Plaintiff William E. Powell seeks records
from Defendants Department of Treasury and Department of
Justice. In now moving for summary judgment, Defendants
contend that, although they came up empty, they have
conducted an adequate search for the material Powell seeks.
The Court agrees.
First Amended Complaint here, filed on February 23, 2018,
requests documents from the Office of Foreign Assets Control
(OFAC), which is housed within Treasury. See ECF No.
11 at 1. Specifically, he requested the following:
All Applications and License provided by the Office of
Foreign Assets Commission [sic] (OFAC) for the
Powell Printing Inc, Powell Printing Co, William A. Powell
aka William Andrew Powell, Andrew Powell[, ] Seco Tools Inc,
Sandvik Cormorant/Sandvik Group and Amelia L. Powell aka
Amelia Louise Powell, Amelia Louise Zeigler aka Amelia L.
Zeigler and William E. Powell to include family travel and
business for years January 1, 1987 through December 11, 2017.
Letter of Dec. 28, 2017, attached to FAC.
unclear why Powell believes that OFAC, which “is
principally responsible for administering U.S. economic
sanctions programs . . . primarily directed against foreign
states and foreign nationals, ” would have records on
these people and entities. See ECF No. 14-1
(Declaration of Marshall H. Fields, Jr.), ¶ 6. Nor is
there any basis here to have named DOJ. In any event,
“the OFAC FOIA Office tasked the Licensing Division to
search for responsive records [since] . . . if OFAC had any
responsive records . . ., they would be located within the
Licensing Division.” Id., ¶ 14. As Powell
had previously submitted the same request to OFAC with a
shorter list of names, this time its FOIA Office only
searched for records with names not already used.
Id., ¶¶ 12, 15. Specifically, this time
around, it plugged in “Seco Tools, ”
“Sandvik, ” “Cormorant, ”
“Amelia Powell, ” and “Amelia
Zeigler.” Id., ¶¶ 13, 15
(inadvertently saying new search terms in ¶ 12, when
actually in ¶ 13). The new search yielded no responsive
records. Id., ¶ 16. Defendant, consequently,
now moves for summary judgment, asserting its search was
judgment may be granted if “the movant shows 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). A genuine issue of material fact is one
that would change the outcome of the litigation. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986) (“Only disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment.”). In the event
of conflicting evidence on a material issue, the Court is to
construe the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. See Sample v. Bureau of
Prisons, 466 F.3d 1086, 1087 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for
summary judgment. See Defenders of Wildlife v. Border
Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009); Bigwood
v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., 484 F.Supp.2d 68, 73
(D.D.C. 2007). In FOIA cases, the agency bears the ultimate
burden of proof to show that it conducted an adequate search.
See Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d
548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994). “At all times courts must
bear in mind that FOIA mandates a ‘strong presumption
in favor of disclosure' . . . .” Nat'l
Ass'n of Home Builders v. Norton, 309 F.3d 26, 32
(D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Dep't of State v. Ray,
502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991)). The Court may grant summary
judgment based solely on information provided in an
agency's affidavits or declarations when they 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).
moving for summary judgment, Treasury maintains that it
conducted an adequate search. The adequacy of an agency's
search for documents under FOIA “is judged by a
standard of reasonableness and depends, not surprisingly,
upon the facts of each case.” Weisberg v. Dep't
of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The
issue is, ultimately, whether an agency's search was
“reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant
documents.” Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897
F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted). To meet its burden, the agency
should submit affidavits or declarations that explain the
scope and method of its search “in reasonable
detail.” Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127
(D.C. Cir. 1982). The “adequacy of a FOIA search is
generally determined not by the fruits of the search, but by
the appropriateness of the methods used to carry out the
search.” Iturralde v. Comptroller of the
Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2003).
Declaration from Marshall Fields, the Assistant Director of
OFAC's Information Disclosure and Records Management
Division, shows that Defendant searched for records in the
only place they were likely to be housed - viz., the
Licensing Division - and also searched using terms that would
locate responsive records. See Fields Decl.,
¶¶ 12-15, As a result, the Government has
apparently satisfied its burden. Powell, however, is not
entirely convinced, although he does not put up much of a
fight here, see ECF No. 16 (Opp.), particularly
compared to his lengthy briefs in his other FOIA cases.
first very broadly rejoins that “Defendant did not
illustrate when the search was conducted, what office/files
were searched, name of database was searched [sic]
and who conducted the search and by what means regarding
Plaintiff's FOIA Request.” Opp. at 3. This is not
the case. Fields explained that the search was conducted by
Licensing Division personnel of their records on or ...