United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
Juan Luciano Machado Amadis sues the U.S. Department of
Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Department of State
(“State”) under the Freedom of Information Act, 5
U.S.C. § 552 (“FOIA”). He also seeks relief
under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201,
and the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. At issue are
Government's responses to Mr. Amadis's requests for
documents about State's decision to deny his visa
applications based on events that occurred nearly four
Amadis alleges that State and DOJ's components-the Drug
Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) and the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (“FBI”)-conducted inadequate
searches in response to his FOIA requests. He also contends
that the FBI and DOJ's Office of Information Policy
(“OIP”) improperly withheld records. Before the
Court is the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Mr. Amadis's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
For the reasons given below, the Court will grant summary
judgment to the Government and deny Mr. Amadis's
Luciano Machado Amadis is a Dominican citizen who lives in
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Am. Compl., ECF No. 15,
¶ 3. In 1989, he was denied a visa by the U.S. Embassy
in Santo Domingo. Cross Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D, ECF No.
31-4, p. 1. State explained that Mr. Amadis was inadmissible
under Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
because he had been arrested for possession of over 100 grams
of cocaine. Id. Section 212 allows State to refuse
visas to persons who it has reason to believe “is or
has been” a drug trafficker. Id. at 2. The
cocaine charge, however, was dismissed, see Cross
Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B, ECF No. 31-2, pp. 4-5, and Mr.
Amadis provided evidence to State that he had no conviction
record, Cross Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D, ECF No. 31-4, p. 2.
again found Mr. Amadis ineligible for a visa under Section
212(a) in 1990. Cross Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D, ECF No. 31-4,
p. 2. It explained that while Mr. Amadis “has no
conviction record . . . this does not address whether or not
he was arrested, ” and Section 212(a) does not require
a conviction for State to make an ineligibility finding.
Id. “According to information available to
[State], [Mr. Amadis] was arrested December 10, 1980, at the
Santo Domingo Airport at which time 125 grams of cocaine was
confiscated from his luggage.” Id. In 2012,
Mr. Amadis again applied for a visa, and for a third time,
State refused his request. Id. at 3. State cited
Section 212(a)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,
which makes known and suspected drug traffickers
inadmissible, see 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(C).
Amadis maintains that State is misinformed. He acknowledges
that on December 10, 1980, he flew from New York to Santo
Domingo where local authorities detained him on suspicion of
drug trafficking. Cross Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A, ECF No.
31-1, ¶¶ 11, 13, 17. But he claims that he was
never searched for drugs, no drugs were confiscated from his
luggage, and he was only arrested two weeks later at his
home. Id. ¶¶ 11-17. Even though his own
version of events would likely justify a visa denial under
Section 212, Mr. Amadis filed FOIA requests with State, the
FBI, and the DEA hoping to determine the basis for
State's decisions denying his visa applications.
Mr. Amadis submitted a FOIA request to State for records
“regarding alleged criminal activities that have led to
his visa revocation/denial” (“First State
Request”). See Stein Decl. Ex. 1, ECF No.
20-5, p. 1. After searching its Consular Consolidated
Database, the Consular Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in
Santo Domingo, and State Archiving System, State retrieved 53
responsive records. Stein Decl., ECF No. 20-4, ¶¶
11, 29-36. State informed Mr. Amadis of the search results,
and it released 32 documents in full, released 9 documents in
part, and withheld 12 documents in full. Id. ¶
11; Stein Decl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 20-5, p. 22.
Mr. Amadis submitted a FOIA request to the DEA for “all
records related to [himself], as well as [his] entire
record within the [DEA]” (“First DEA
Request”). Myrick Decl. Ex. A, ECF No. 20-7, p. 2.
Given the request's breadth, the DEA construed Mr. Amadis
to be seeking the DEA's investigative files about
himself. Myrick Decl., ECF No. 20-6, ¶ 26. After
searching its Investigative Reporting and Filing System and
its Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System, the DEA
found no responsive records. Id. ¶¶ 30-31.
The DEA informed Mr. Amadis of its search results by letter.
Id. ¶ 6.
Mr. Amadis submitted a FOIA request to the FBI for
“[i]nformation regarding any/all criminal and/or drug
trafficking related crimes” about himself (“First
FBI Request”). Hardy Decl., ECF No. 20-8, ¶5;
Hardy Decl. Ex. A, ECF No. 20-9, p. 2. The FBI searched its
Central Records System, and because Mr. Amadis's FOIA
request included an attachment about his 1990 visa
application, the FBI searched its manual indices, index cards
cataloguing pre-1995 records not searchable through
electronic indices. Hardy Decl., ECF No. 20-8, ¶¶
41, 43-45, 50, 52-54. The FBI informed Mr. Amadis that it
uncovered no responsive records and stated that its FOIA
response “neither confirms nor denies the existence of
[Mr. Amadis's] name on any watch lists.”
See Hardy Decl. Ex. B, ECF No. 20-9, p. 8 (citing
FOIA exemption (b)(7)(E)). Because the FBI determined that Mr.
Amadis was likely seeking a copy of his FBI identification
records (“rap sheet”), it referred his First FBI
Request to its Criminal Justice Information Services
(“CJIS”) for processing. Hardy Decl., ECF No.
20-8, ¶¶ 7-8. Generally, a person must request a
copy of his or her rap sheet directly from CJIS. Id.
¶ 8, n.1.
with the agencies' search results, Mr. Amadis filed six
new FOIA requests. He requested that each agency provide
records “memorializing or describing the
processing” of his previous FOIA requests (Count
VI-“Second DEA Request, ” Count VII-“Second
FBI Request, ” and Count IX-“Second State
Request”). He also sought “all records, including
emails, memorializing or describing the processing” of
the appeals of his First DEA Request and First FBI Request
from OIP (Count VIII-“OIP Request”). Finally, he
renewed his attempts to find the information causing State to
deny his visa requests. He requested that the DEA disclose
“copies of all records, including emails, about
him[self]” (Count IV-“Third DEA Request”).
And he requested that the FBI provide “all records,
including emails and cross references, about him[self]”
(Count V-“Third FBI Request”). These six FOIA
requests are the basis for this action.
FOIA, agencies must conduct “a good faith effort to 
search for the requested records, using methods which can be
reasonably expected to produce the information
requested.” Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of the
Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (Oglesby
I). FOIA also requires agencies “to comply with
requests to make their records available to the public,
unless the requested records fit within one or more of nine
categories of exempt material. Oglesby v. U.S. Dept. of
the Army, 79 F.3d 1172, 1176 (D.C. Cir. 1996)
(Oglesby II). The “vast majority” of
FOIA cases are resolved on motions for summary judgment.
See Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d
521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
moving for summary judgment must show an absence of a genuine
issue of material fact-a fact that “might affect the
outcome of the suit under governing law.” See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48
(1986). “In the FOIA context, a district court
reviewing a motion for summary judgment conducts a de
novo review of the record, and the responding federal
agency bears the burden of proving that it has complied with
its obligations under FOIA.” Pinson v. Dep't of
Justice, 160 F.Supp.3d 285, 292 (D.D.C. 2016). So a
court may grant summary judgment to an agency only if it can
establish that any withheld document falls into one of the
enumerated exemptions, see 5 U.S.C. §
552(a)(4)(B), and its search was reasonably calculated to
uncover all relevant documents, see Valencia-Lucena v.
U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999).
Mr. Amadis has waived his claims under the Declaratory
Judgment Act and the All Writs Act fail.
their motion for summary judgment, DOJ and State argued that
Mr. Amadis's claims under the Declaratory Judgment Act
and the All Writs Act fail for two reasons. First, they
argued that a request for declaratory relief does not confer
jurisdiction on the federal courts if jurisdiction would not
otherwise exist. See Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petrol.
Co., 339 U.S. 667, 671 (1950). And since Mr.
Amadis's underlying FOIA claims fail, he also cannot
establish entitlement to relief under the Declaratory
Judgment Act. See Def. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No.
20-2, p. 11 (citing Kenney v. U.S. Dep't of
Justice, 603 F.Supp.2d 184, 190 n. 4 (D.D.C. 2009)).
Second, they claimed that “the ‘comprehensiveness
of FOIA' forecloses any claims purportedly also brought
under [the Declaratory Judgment Act or the All Writs
Act].” Id. (citing Johnson v. Exec. Office
for U.S. Attorneys, 310 F.3d 771, 777 (D.C. Cir. 2002)).
Amadis, however, did not address the Defendant's
arguments in his opposition. See Cross Mot. for
Summ. J., ECF No. 31. And “it is well understood in
this Circuit that when a plaintiff files an opposition to a
dispositive motion and addresses only certain arguments
raised by the defendant, a court may treat those arguments
that the plaintiff failed to address as conceded.”
Davis v. Transp. Sec. Admin., 264 F.Supp.3d 6, 10
(D.D.C. 2017) (cleaned up). So the Court treats the
Government's arguments about the Declaratory Judgment Act
and the All Writs Act as conceded and grants its motion for
summary judgment on those claims.
Mr. Amadis has failed to exhaust administrative remedies for
his Third DEA Request and his Third FBI Request.
of administrative remedies is generally required before
filing suit in federal court so that the agency has an
opportunity to exercise its discretion and expertise on the
matter and to make a factual record to support its
decision.” Oglesby I, 920 F.2d at 61. In the
FOIA context, exhaustion is not jurisdictional, but “as
a jurisprudential doctrine, failure to exhaust precludes
judicial review if ‘the purposes of exhaustion' and
the ‘particular administrative scheme' support such
a bar.'” Hidalgo v. FBI, 344 F.3d 1256,
1258-59 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing Oglesby I, 920 F.2d
at 61). And “FOIA's specific administrative
procedures, clear deadlines for processing requests, and
detailed provisions on appeal all suggest that FOIA is an
administrative scheme that not only requires exhaustion of
administrative remedies, but, moreover, permits a court to
dismiss a case when a plaintiff fails to exhaust his
administrative remedies.” Porter v. CIA, 778
F.Supp.2d 60, 68 (D.D.C. 2011).
agency generally must substantively respond to a request
within 20 working days to trigger FOIA's administrative
exhaustion requirement. See 5 U.S.C. §
552(a)(6)(A); Oglesby I, 920 F.2d at 62-64. The
agency must at least: “(i) gather and review the
documents; (ii) determine and communicate the scope of the
documents it intends to produce and withhold, and the reasons
for withholding any documents; and (iii) inform the requester
that it can appeal whatever portion of the
‘determination' is adverse.” Citizens for
Responsibility & Ethics in Wash.
(“CREW”) v. FEC, 711 F.3d 180,
188 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Once the agency has issued such a
determination, “the requester must exhaust his
administrative remedies before seeking judicial
review.” Oglesby I, 920 F.2d at 64.
16, 2017, Mr. Amadis submitted his Third DEA Request. Myrick
Decl., ECF No. 20-6, ¶ 17; Myrick Decl. Ex. L., ECF No.
20-7, p. 29. He sought “copies of all records,
including emails, about him[self].” Id. That
same day, he also submitted his Third FBI Request, seeking
“copies of all records, including emails and
cross-references, about him[self].” See Hardy
Decl. Ex. V, ECF No. 20-9, p. 73. So the DEA and the FBI
needed to issue a determination on Mr. Amadis's requests
by June 14, 2017. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A).
They did so.
issued its determination on June 8. The DEA explained that
“[t]o search for responsive records, [it] queried the
DEA Investigative Reporting and Filing System.”
Myrick Decl. Ex. M, ECF No. 20-7, p. 32. But after trying to
“gather and review” responsive documents, the DEA
could not locate any. Id. So the DEA
“communicate[d] the scope of the documents it
intend[ed] to produce”-none-and the reason
therefor-they could not locate responsive documents. See
CREW, 711 F.3d at 188. Finally, the DEA told Mr. Amadis
how he could administratively appeal its adverse decision and
that he could contact the DEA's FOIA Public Liaison for
further assistance. Myrick Decl. Ex. M, ECF No. 20-7, p. 32.
responded two days before the deadline. It informed Mr.
Amadis that “[b]ased on the information you provided,
[it] conducted a search of the Central Records System,
” but the FBI was “unable to identify main file
records responsive to the FOIA.” See Hardy
Decl. Ex. X, ECF No. 20-9, p. 86. And it issued a
Glomar response, neither confirming nor denying the
existence of Mr. Amadis's name on any watch lists.
Id. The FBI also informed Mr. Amadis that he could
appeal its adverse decision to OIP.
both the DEA and the FBI issued adverse determinations as
defined by CREW, 711 F.3d at 188. See also
Nat'l Sec. Counselors v. CIA, 931 F.Supp.2d 77, 95
(D.D.C. 2013) (“A response is sufficient for purposes
of requiring an administrative appeal if it includes the
agency's determination of whether or not to comply with
the request; the reasons for its decision; and notice of the
right of the requester to appeal to the head of the agency if
the initial agency decision is adverse.”) (cleaned up).
Both complied with Mr. Amadis's request and conducted a
search, trying to “gather and review” responsive
documents. Both determined and communicated the scope of the
records they intended to produce-none. And they explained the
reason for the scope of their disclosure-they found no
responsive records. The FBI also suggested that to whatever
extent it may have found responsive documents they were
withheld under Exemption 7(E) or 5 U.S.C. § 552(c). Both
agencies also told Mr. Amadis that he could appeal their
adverse determinations. And because both agencies issued
their determinations within 20 working days of receiving the
requests, FOIA's administrative exhaustion requirements
Amadis, however, appealed neither decision to OIP before
amending his Complaint to add his Third DEA Request and Third
FBI Request. He concedes as much. But he argues that the
agencies' responses did not trigger the administrative
exhaustion requirement. Mr. Amadis reasons that because the
DEA and the FBI offered to conduct additional searches if he
submitted more information, the agencies' respective
responses were not final “determinations” under
CREW and 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A). And he
therefore constructively exhausted his administrative
remedies under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C).
As described above, when an agency informs a requester that
it has complied with a request but has located no responsive
records, that is a determination, and such a determination is
susceptible to immediate administrative appeal. The agency is
not “simply decid[ing] to decide later.” See
CREW, 711 F.3d at 186. It has rendered an adverse
decision and given its basis therefor. FOIA requires no more
to trigger the administrative ...