United States District Court, District of Columbia
DOUGLAS C. CHARNOCK, JR., Plaintiff,
WILLIAM BARR, Attorney General of the United States, Defendant.
S. Chutkan, United States District Judge.
Douglas Charnock, Jr. brings this action against the
Department of Justice (“DOJ”), through Attorney
General William Barr,  under the Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq.,
and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5
U.S.C. § 701 et seq., to compel the DOJ to
process and release records in response to his FOIA request.
The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
For the reasons stated herein, the DOJ's Motion for
Summary Judgment will be GRANTED, and Plaintiff's
Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment will be DENIED.
filed a complaint with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division in
January 2017, alleging that the Supreme Court of Virginia
violated his rights by denying him federal assistance under
the Americans with Disabilities Act
decided not to act on Charnock's complaint in May 2017,
explaining that the DOJ “receives thousands of ADA
complaints each year, ” and “do[es] not have the
resources to resolve all of them.” Def.'s Mot. For
Summ. J., Decl. of Nelson D. Hermilla, Ex. D at 19-21,
No. 7-1 (“DOJ's First Denial Letter”). The
next month, the DOJ sent a follow-up letter to Charnock and
stated that the DOJ “represents the interests of the
United States, rather than individual complainants” in
ADA enforcement claims, and because of the large number of
complaints it receives compared to its limited resources, the
DOJ is “unable to open an investigation of every
complaint” it receives. Id. at 22
(“DOJ's Second Denial Letter”).
then submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ for
“documents, communications, notes, etc. that the Agency
has used in its determination not to assist Mr.
Charnock.” Complaint, ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”)
¶ 6. The DOJ searched for responsive documents and found
one responsive document, DOJ's Second Denial Letter,
which it forwarded to Charnock's counsel in its final
FOIA response. Id. at ¶ 7.
then filed this suit alleging that: (1) the DOJ unlawfully
withheld agency records under FOIA and (2) the DOJ's
decision to not investigate his complaint against the Supreme
Court of Virginia violated the APA. See id. at
¶¶ 9-15, 17-18.
receiving the complaint, the DOJ conducted another search for
responsive documents, using Charnock's name as the search
term in two databases, the correspondence tracking system
(“CTS”) and the case management system
(“ICM”)-“the only locations within the
agency where it is reasonably likely to find records
responsive to the FOIA request.” Decl. of Nelson D.
Hermilla, ECF No. 7-1 at 2, ¶ 5 (“Hermilla
Decl.”). The DOJ's second search found three
responsive documents, which it produced to Charnock's
counsel: (1) The DOJ's First Denial Letter, (2) the
DOJ's Second Denial Letter (which had been produced after
the first search), and (3) a summary of Charnock's
complaint to the DOJ. Id.
has moved for summary judgment, arguing that it conducted a
reasonable and adequate search under FOIA, and that its
decision not to investigate Charnock's complaint is an
unreviewable exercise of the agency's prosecutorial
discretion under the APA. Charnock cross-moved for summary
judgment, arguing that the DOJ's search was inadequate
and that its prosecutorial discretion under the APA is
rebuttable and reviewable by the court.
judgment is appropriate where 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(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Waterhouse v.
Dist. of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact
exists, the court must view all facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986). A fact is material if “a dispute over it
might affect the outcome of a suit under governing law;
factual disputes that are ‘irrelevant or
unnecessary' do not affect the summary judgment
determination.” Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d
889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). An issue is
genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for
summary judgment.” ViroPharma Inc. v. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 839 F.Supp.2d 184, 189
(D.D.C. 2012) (citations omitted). When an agency moves for
summary judgment on the grounds that it has discharged its
FOIA obligations, all underlying facts and inferences are
analyzed in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester,
and only after the agency proves that it has fully discharged
its FOIA obligations is summary judgment appropriate.
Moore v. Aspin, 916 F.Supp. 32, 35 (D.D.C. 1996);
see also Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705
F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (“[T]he agency bears
the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, even when the underlying facts are viewed in
the light most favorable to the requester.”).