United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
attention seekers have falsely claimed to be CIA agents.
David Steven Braun, on the other hand, insists he has
never worked for the agency but suspects that a
government database entry says otherwise. This record, Mr.
Braun claims, has caused him to suffer various adverse
employment actions and instances of harassment over the
years. Seeking to unearth and correct this purported record,
Braun has made a series of requests to the CIA and the FBI
pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy
Act. He also seeks records regarding his late father, Harvey
Allen Braun, whose suicide he attributes to a similar
database entry in the government's files.
response to Braun's requests, each agency searched its
files and informed him that no relevant records had been
located. Where the requested searches implicated material
classified for law enforcement or national security purposes,
each agency issued a so-called Glomar
response-i.e., a response that neither confirms nor
denies the existence of responsive records. Unsatisfied,
Braun has sued the agencies pro se, insisting that
responsive records exist and claiming damages for the
wrongful death of his father. Each party has moved for
summary judgment. Because the FBI and the CIA have adequately
responded to Braun's requests, the Court will grant their
motion and deny Braun's.
believes the CIA or FBI has a “database point
represent[ing] that [he] currently or at one time did work
for the Agency.” Compl., ECF No. 1, at 2. He attributes
a string of adverse life events to this purported record,
alleging it “has prevented [him] from gaining
employment at countless jobs, ” and “caused
companies not to promote [him] and to limit [his] salary and
Year end bonuses.” Id. He also claims that it
has led him to be victimized by vandalism, attempted
break-ins, and druggings at restaurants near his Montana
home. Pl.'s Resp. to Reply to MSJ (“Resp. to
Reply”), ECF No. 21, at 2. Braun believes that the FBI
has a similar database entry for his father, Harvey Braun,
which limited his father's salary, prevented him from
finding employment, and ultimately “forc[ed] him to
take his own life.” Compl. at 8-9.
has filed and unsuccessfully litigated several FOIA and
Privacy Act requests with a variety of agencies seeking to
remove or correct this suspected database entry. See,
e.g., Braun v. USPS, No. 16-2079, 2017 WL
4325645 (D.D.C. Sept. 27, 2017); Braun v. FBI, No.
16-00040, 2017 WL 496059 (D. Mont. February 7, 2017);
Braun v. NSA, No. 15-01266 (D.D.C). He continues
that pattern with this challenge to the adequacy of the FBI
and CIA's responses to multiple recent FOIA and Privacy
Act requests. Compl. at 9.
filed the first request at issue here with the FBI in August
2016, seeking “any references to [him] being a federal
employee” or being “employed [by] any branch [of
the] Military, such as the CIA.” Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No.
1, at 9. He later lodged several additional FOIA
and Privacy Act requests with the FBI seeking records related
to his name that “might negatively affect the hiring
process, ” Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1, at 14, or cause him
to fail a “civil background check, ” Compl. Ex.
8, ECF No. 1, at 19. Braun also sought records regarding his
late father, including whether the elder Braun had a criminal
record or other indications that might affect his ability to
find employment. Compl. Exs. 10, 10A, 10B, ECF No. 1, at
response to each of Braun's requests, the FBI searched
its Central Records System (“CRS”) and manual
indices. See Decl. of David M. Hardy (“Hardy
Decl.”), Def.'s MSJ Ex. 1, ECF No. 16-4,
¶¶ 40-49. Save where the FBI located files already
disclosed pursuant to a prior FOIA request, none of the
agency's searches located responsive records. Hardy Decl.
¶ 4. To the extent Braun requested information related
to “placement on any government watch list, ” the
FBI issued a Glomar response, refusing to
“confirm or deny the existence of any records
responsive to [his] request” based on FOIA Exemption
7(E) and Privacy Act Exemption (j)(2). Id.
¶¶ 10, 20. Accordingly, the FBI determined that
there were no records responsive to Braun's requests, and
maintains that it has met its obligations under FOIA and the
Privacy Act. Id. ¶ 50.
also submitted several FOIA and Privacy Act requests to the
CIA beginning in October 2017. Compl. Ex. 14, ECF No. 1, at
31. These submissions sought medical records, employment
records, and other records that might cause him to
“fail [a] civil background check.” See,
e.g., id.; id. Ex. 19, ECF No. 1, at
38. In response to each request, the CIA searched for
different combinations of Braun's name in all records
that would reveal an open, unclassified, or acknowledged
relationship with the agency. See Decl. of
Antoinette B. Shiner (“Shiner Decl.”), Defs.'
MSJ Ex. 2, ECF No. 16-5, ¶¶ 20-21. Where
Braun's requested search extended to classified material,
the CIA, too, issued a Glomar response, refusing to
“confirm the existence or nonexistence of [responsive]
records” based on its invocation of FOIA Exemptions 1
and 3, and Privacy Act Exemptions (j)(1) and (k)(1).
Id. ¶ 22.
takes issue with each agency's response to his requests.
He is certain that database entries on him and his father
exist and contends that each agency's search was
inadequate, as demonstrated by its failure to identify those
records. Accordingly, he asks the Court to conduct an
additional review of FBI and CIA files to locate the records.
Compl. at 9. Additionally, Braun claims the alleged
government record on his father, Harvey Braun, was the cause
of his father's suicide. He thus asks the Court to find
the CIA and/or the FBI liable for his father's death and
award damages of “[$]1, 000, 000 a month for the rest
of [his] life.” Id. at 8-10. Both parties have
moved for summary judgment, and the matter is ripe for
cases are typically resolved on summary judgment. See
Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527
(D.C. Cir. 2011). Summary judgment should be granted if
“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).
requires that an agency conduct an adequate search for
responsive records upon request from a member of the public.
See Rodriguez v. Dep't of Def., 236 F.Supp.3d
26, 34 (D.D.C. 2017). While “a requester must
reasonably describe the records sought, an agency also has a
duty to construe the FOIA request liberally.”
Nation Magazine, Washington Bureau v. U.S. Customs
Serv., 71 F.3d 885, 890 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (alteration,
citation, and quotation omitted). The agency “must
conduct a ‘good faith, reasonable search of those
systems of records likely to possess requested
records.'” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S.
Dep't of Justice, 373 F.Supp.3d 120, 123 (D.D.C.
2019) (quoting Freedom Watch, Inc. v. Nat'l Sec.
Agency, 220 F.Supp.3d 40, 44 (D.D.C. 2016)).
a party dispute the adequacy of an agency's search, the
agency must show “beyond material doubt that its search
was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant
documents.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S.
Dep't of State, 641 F.3d 504, 514 (D.C. Cir. 2011)
(quoting Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180
F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). The reasonableness of a
search is determined “not by the fruits of the search,
but by the appropriateness of the methods used to carry out
the search.” Francis v. U.S. Dep't of
Justice, 267 F.Supp.3d 9, 12 (D.D.C. 2017). “An
agency may prove the reasonableness of its search through a
declaration by a responsible agency official[.]”
Judicial Watch, 373 F.Supp.3d at 123 (quoting
Cunningham v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 40 F.Supp.
3d 71, 83-84 (D.D.C. 2014)). “Agency declarations,
especially from individuals coordinating the search, are
afforded a ‘presumption of good faith, which cannot be
rebutted by purely speculative claims about ...