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Heartland Alliance for Human needs v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 29, 2019




         The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) brings this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to challenge the adequacy of responses to its FOIA requests from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its constituent agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Following this Court's order on an earlier partial motion for summary judgment, DHS and ICE made supplemental productions of the requested statistical data and draft statistical reports. NIJC now challenges specific redactions made to the records. The parties filed renewed cross-motions for partial summary judgment. The Court will grant in part and deny in part both Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment and NIJC's motion for partial summary judgment. Defendants will be directed to provide the location-identifying data in the produced records, re-produce DHS's July 20, 2018 production in native format, and provide the Originating Agency Identifier and Contributing Agency Identifier codes in all produced records.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts were described in detail in the Court's Memorandum Opinion on the parties' first cross-motions for partial summary judgment and will only be summarized and supplemented here. See Heartland All. for Human Needs & Human Rights v. DHS, 291 F.Supp.3d 69, 74-76 (D.D.C. 2018). NIJC is a nonprofit entity through which the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights does business. It is “[d]edicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.” Am. Compl. [Dkt. 22] ¶ 4. “Secure Communities was an immigration enforcement program administered by ICE from 2008 to 2014, ” Id. ¶ 7, and reinstituted in 2017, see Exec. Order No. 13, 767, 82 Fed. Reg. 8, 793 (Jan. 25, 2017), which allowed fingerprints collected by police to be provided “to the FBI for checks against various criminal justice databases” and to DHS to determine “which fingerprinted arrestees may be removable aliens.” Ex. 6, Am. Compl. (DHS FOIA Request) [Dkt. 22-6] at 8.[1]

         NIJC submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2012), on March 14, 2014 to DHS and ICE regarding the Secure Communities program administered by ICE. See DHS FOIA Request; Ex. 12, Am. Compl. (ICE FOIA Request) [Dkt. 22-12].[2] Both FOIA requests asked for a variety of records pertaining to the Secure Communities program, including “all reports produced related to the Secure Communities Statistical Monitoring, including all draft reports and reports produced by contracted statistician(s)” and all underlying statistical data. Am. Compl. ¶ 21.

         On February 8, 2016, NIJC filed the Complaint in this case challenging the adequacy of the agencies' response to the FOIA requests. See Compl. [Dkt. 1]. NIJC also submitted additional FOIA Requests to DHS and ICE on November 4, 2016 requesting the same types of records for the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), a replacement program for Secure Communities which was in place from 2014 to 2016, and filed an Amended Complaint. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37-45; Ex. 19, Am. Compl. (DHS Second FOIA Request) [Dkt. 22-19]; Ex. 21, Am. Compl. (ICE Second FOIA Request) [Dkt. 22-21].

         The parties agreed to focus on the reports and statistical data in hopes of resolving the case without extensive production. The Court, therefore, ordered Defendants to locate and produce all statistical monitoring reports and underlying data, or indicate in a Vaughn Index[3] the grounds for withholding each record. See 12/1/16 Order [Dkt. 20]. After those productions, both parties moved for partial summary judgment and, on January 31, 2018, the Court denied Defendants' motion and granted in part NIJC's motion. The Court required DHS and ICE to search for and produce all underlying data used in the draft statistical reports. See 1/31/18 Order [Dkt. 41]. For the next six months, DHS and ICE searched for and produced numerous records, including statistical data and draft reports regarding the data. The parties also conferred repeatedly and engaged in telephone conferences with the Court regarding challenges to some redactions made by DHS and ICE. In August 2018, the Court determined that the remaining disputes should be briefed through another round of cross-motions for partial summary judgment. See 8/2/18 Order [Dkt. 48]. Those motions are now ripe for decision.[4]


         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is the typical vehicle to resolve an action brought under FOIA. See McLaughlin v. DOJ, 530 F.Supp.2d 210, 212 (D.D.C. 2008). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment, however, “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 248.

         B. FOIA

         FOIA requires federal agencies to release government records to the public upon request, subject to nine listed exceptions. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b); Wolf v. CIA, 473 F.3d 370, 374 (D.C. Cir. 2007). In a FOIA case, a court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the department or agency in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe “the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith.” Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). A defending agency in a FOIA case must show that its search for responsive records was adequate, that any exemptions claimed actually apply, and that any reasonably ...

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