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Williams v. Executive Office For U.S. Attorneys

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 26, 2019

DAVID WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR U.S. ATTORNEYS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DABNF L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff David Williams, proceeding pro se, challenges the response of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) to his request for records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Williams moved for summary judgment, arguing that EOUSA “never” responded to his request or justified any withholdings. See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 4, Dkt. 9; see also Id. ¶¶ 5-7. EOUSA has since processed Williams's FOIA request, released records, and moved for summary judgment. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. 18; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 1, Dkt. 21. Williams opposed the motion, see Pl.'s Opp'n, and EOUSA failed to file a reply. Williams then filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause, arguing that it was “unclear” whether EOUSA filed a reply and that, if it did not file a reply, it should be ordered to show cause why Williams should not be granted relief, Pl.'s Mot. for Order to Show Cause at 1, Dkt. 22; see also Id. at 2. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Williams's initial motion as moot, grant in part and deny in part without prejudice EOUSA's motion, and deny Williams's show cause motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 23, 2007, a grand jury in the Middle District of Florida indicted Williams and his mother for mail fraud and other crimes. United States v. Williams, No. 06-cr-0075, 2007 WL 2021963, at *1 & n.1 (M.D. Fla. July 11, 2007). In a FOIA request dated March 10, 2016, Williams sought the following five categories of records related to his criminal case: (1) all “Brady material”; (2) all “Jencks [Act] material”; (3) all “Giglio material”;[1] (4) “[a]ny and all other reports, files, and documents that are permitted to be released by law”; and (5) “Grand Jury minutes (transcript(s)).” Decl. of Tricia Francis Attach. A at 1, Dkt. 18-1 (italics added). On May 16, 2016, EOUSA forwarded Williams's request to its FOIA contact in the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida. Id. ¶ 7. Two days later, on May 18, EOUSA sent a letter to Williams acknowledging the request. Id. Attach. B. It completed processing the request in December of 2017, see Id. ¶¶ 13, 15, but because of “an administrative oversight, ” it did not mail the prepared release packet to Williams until September of 2018, id. ¶ 15.

         Williams filed this lawsuit on January 4, 2018, Pl.'s Compl., Dkt. 1, and moved for summary judgment on July 3, Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. EOUSA then mailed the release packet to Williams in September and informed him that 528 pages were released in full, 30 pages were released in part, and 249 pages were withheld in full. Francis Decl. Attach. C. at 1. It also explained that several of the requested documents were sealed or related to grand jury proceedings, and it cited FOIA exemptions 3, 5, 6, 7(C) and 7(D), [2] codified in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), as the bases for the remaining withholdings. Id. Attach. C at 1-2. In November, EOUSA moved for summary judgment. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Rule 56 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). At this stage, 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).

         To 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 [FOIA's] inspection requirements.” Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). The agency “must show beyond material doubt . . . that it has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents, ” Weisberg v. DOJ, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (internal quotation marks omitted), and must also explain why any of the nine enumerated exemptions listed in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) applies to withheld information, Judicial Watch v. FDA, 449 F.3d 141, 147 (D.C. Cir. 2006); see also DOJ v. Julian, 486 U.S. 1, 8 (1988) (“A federal agency must disclose agency records unless they may be withheld pursuant to one of the nine enumerated exemptions listed in § 552(b).”).

         “The 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. Thus, “[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 v. U.S. Secret Serv., 726 F.3d 208, 215 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (alteration adopted and internal quotation marks omitted). “Agency affidavits 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. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         As a threshold matter, the Court denies as moot Williams's initial motion for summary judgment. EOUSA had not responded to Williams's FOIA request when he filed the motion, and the motion took issue with the agency's failure to disclose any documents at all, see Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 3. Those arguments no longer apply now that EOUSA has responded to his request.

         The Court divides its analysis of EOUSA's motion in three parts. First, it considers Williams's argument that, although EOUSA released an exhibit list, it withheld the trial exhibits themselves without providing an adequate justification. Pl.'s Opp'n at 1. Second, it considers Williams's argument that EOUSA failed to release Brady, Giglio, and Jencks Act material and failed to justify its withholding of that material. Id. at 1-2. Finally, the Court considers each of EOUSA's asserted bases for withholding materials responsive to Williams's request.[3]

         A. The Trial Exhibits

         Williams faults EOUSA for withholding without explanation the trial exhibits described in the exhibit list he received. Pl.'s Opp'n at 1, 3-5. Although the FOIA contact confirmed that “233 pages of trial exhibits” were retrieved following the “original search of Williams' criminal case file, ” Hoobler Decl. ⁋ 9, EOUSA neither accounted for those exhibits in its opening brief nor addressed Williams's argument in a reply brief[4] Because the Court lacks sufficient information to determine whether the undisclosed exhibits constitute a withholding, much less an improper withholding, it denies EOUSA's motion without prejudice as to those documents. EOUSA must supplement the record and, if warranted, release any additional responsive documents.

         Williams urges the Court to “order that the [e]xhibits be released, ” Pl.'s Opp'n at 5, but a FOIA requester is not entitled to agency documents simply because the agency failed to satisfy its burden to obtain summary judgment. Instead, it is appropriate to require the agency to provide the necessary information to permit the Court to determine whether FOIA requires the release of the documents. See DeBrew v. Atwood, 792 F.3d 118, 122 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“On remand, the district court may order the BOP to submit a reasonably detailed affidavit upon which the reasonableness of its search can be judged.” (alteration adopted and internal quotation request to the FOIA contact for that Office. Francis Decl. ¶ 7. Another representative of the Office then conducted a search of the Office's case management and tracking database and located Williams's criminal case file. Decl. of Megan D. Hoobler ¶¶ 5, 9, Dkt. 18-2. The documents in that file were considered responsive to Williams's request. marks omitted)); Morley v. CIA, 508 F.3d 1108, 1122 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (“On remand, the CIA must expand its description of the search it conducted.”); Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (similar).

         B. The Brady, Giglio, and Jencks ...


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