United States District Court, District of Columbia
L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Trautman and Anthony Clark bring this suit alleging that the
Department of Justice and the National Archives and Records
Administration (NARA) unlawfully withheld records in
violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.
§ 552. Before the Court is the defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 23. For the reasons that follow,
the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.
decade ago, Maryellen Trautman, then a NARA employee, filed a
complaint with NARA alleging that the Archivist of the United
States, Allen Weinstein, engaged in “inappropriate or
improper conduct.” See Simms Decl. ¶ 10,
Dkt. 23-2. Trautman's complaint triggered a criminal
investigation that started as a joint investigation with the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Id. ¶
12. Ultimately, however, no criminal charges were filed.
8, 2016, Trautman and author Anthony Clark (collectively the
“plaintiffs”) submitted joint FOIA requests to
NARA and the following Department of Justice components:
Office of the Attorney General; Office of the Deputy Attorney
General; Office of the Associate Attorney General; FBI; and
the Executive Office of United States Attorneys (collectively
the “defendants”). See Defs.'
Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 1, 7, 11,
17, Dkt. 23-10. Although varying in scope, the
plaintiffs' FOIA requests generally sought agency records
relating to the earlier criminal investigation (identified as
FBI Case Number 58A-WF-237717). Id.
August 11, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in this
Court alleging that the defendants had unlawfully withheld
records responsive to the plaintiffs' FOIA requests.
Compl. ¶¶ 10, 15, 19, 23, Dkt. 1. That complaint
was amended twice. See First Am. Compl., Dkt. 3;
Second Am. Compl., Dkt. 5. On November 30, 2016, NARA
answered the second amended complaint, but the Department of
Justice moved to dismiss all of count one against the offices
of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, and
Associate Attorney General, as well as part of count two
against the Executive Office of United States Attorneys.
Dep't of Justice's Partial Mot. to Dismiss at 1, Dkt.
11. The Department of Justice argued that dismissal was
warranted because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their
administrative remedies. Dep't of Justice's Br. in
Support of Partial Mot. for Summ. J. at 4, Dkt. 11.
same day, the plaintiffs maneuvered to revive their requests
for records from the offices of the Attorney General, Deputy
Attorney General, and Associate Attorney General by
submitting three new FOIA requests to the Office of
Information Policy. See Castellano Decl. ¶ 10,
Dkt. 23-5; Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts
¶ 11. Also, on December 20, 2016, the plaintiffs
submitted a new FOIA request to the Executive Office for
United States Attorneys that asked for the same records
previously sought in their July 8, 2016 request. See
Francis Decl. ¶ 15, Dkt. 23-6. The following day, the
parties moved to stay proceedings before this Court pending
the plaintiffs' exhaustion of administrative proceedings
to address their new FOIA requests. See Joint Mot.
to Stay Proceedings, Dkt. 14.
the administrative proceedings concluded, the parties
returned to this Court. See Joint Status Report
¶ 4, Dkt. 15 (indicating that the plaintiffs
administratively exhausted their FOIA claims). On March 17,
2017, the plaintiffs amended their complaint a third time to
“replace . . . the original FOIA claims with new,
properly exhausted FOIA claims.” Joint Status Report,
Dkt. 15; see also Third Am. Compl., Dkt. 17. The
Department of Justice and NARA answered the amended complaint
that same day. See Answer to Third Am. Compl., Dkt.
18. FOIA processing continued and was completed on June 29,
2017. See Defs.' Statement of Undisputed
Material Facts ¶ 6 (stating that NARA's Office of
the Inspector General provided its final response on that
date). The Department of Justice and NARA then moved for
summary judgment on October 30, 2017. See Defs.'
Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. 23. This case was reassigned to the
undersigned on December 4, 2017.
issues in dispute have narrowed considerably since the
inception of this lawsuit and even more so since the
defendants filed their motion for summary judgment. At the
summary judgment stage, the parties agreed the only remaining
dispute was the adequacy of the defendants' searches.
See Mem. in Support of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J.
at 1, Dkt. 23 (“By agreement of the parties, the only
remaining issue to be resolved on summary judgment is the
adequacy of defendants' searches for responsive
records.”). After the defendants filed their motion for
summary judgment, however, the plaintiffs conceded the
adequacy of all of the searches conducted by the Department
of Justice and NARA's Office of Inspector General.
Pls.' Opp'n at 4, Dkt. 24. As a result, the
plaintiffs' only remaining challenge is to the searches
performed by NARA's Office of General Counsel, Equal
Employment Opportunity Office, and Office of Human Capital.
Id. at 1.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates that
“[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). In FOIA litigation, when a
federal agency moves for summary judgment all facts and
inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
requester, and the agency bears the burden of showing that it
complied with FOIA. Chambers v. U.S. Dep't of
Interior, 568 F.3d 998, 1003 (D.C. Cir. 2009).
prevail under Rule 56, a federal agency “must prove
that each document that falls within the class requested
either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is wholly
exempt from the (FOIA's) inspection
requirements.'” Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d
121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quoting Nat'l
Cable Television Ass'n, Inc. v. F.C.C., 479 F.2d
183, 186 (D.C. Cir. 1973)). The agency “must
demonstrate that it conducted a search reasonably calculated
to uncover all relevant documents, ” Weisberg v.
Department of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350-51 (D.C. Cir.
1983) (internal quotation marks omitted), and must also
explain in reasonable detail why an exemption applies to any
withheld records, Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Food & Drug
Admin., 449 F.3d 141, 147 (D.C. Cir. 2006). “The
system of disclosure established by the FOIA is simple in
theory . . . [a] federal agency must disclose agency records
unless they may be withheld pursuant to one of the nine
enumerated exemptions listed in [5 U.S.C.] §
552(b).” U.S. Dep't of Justice v. Julian,
486 U.S. 1, 8 (1988).
peculiarities inherent in FOIA litigation, with the
responding agencies often in sole possession of requested
records and with information searches conducted only by
agency personnel, have led federal courts to rely on
government affidavits to determine whether the statutory
obligations of the FOIA have been met.” Perry,
684 F.2d. at 126. Accordingly, “[i]n FOIA
cases, summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency
affidavits if they contain reasonable specificity of detail
rather than merely conclusory statements, and if they are not
called into question by contradictory evidence in the record
or by evidence of agency bad faith.” Judicial
Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Serv., 726 F.3d 208, 215
(D.C. Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and alteration
marks omitted). In the absence of evidence to the contrary,
the agency's affidavit is presumed to have been submitted
in good faith. SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. S.E.C., 926
F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks
the other hand, “material facts are genuinely in issue
or, though undisputed, are susceptible to divergent
inferences bearing upon an issue critical to disposition of
the case, summary judgment is not available” to the
agency. Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. U.S. E.P.A.,
856 F.2d 309, 314 (D.C. Cir. 1988). That said, courts in this
jurisdiction recognize that “the vast majority of FOIA
cases can be ...