United States District Court, District of Columbia
CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON, Plaintiff
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, Defendant
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
lawsuit arises from a Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) request that Plaintiff Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington made to Defendant
General Services Administration (“GSA”).
Plaintiff requested all communications from January 20, 2017
to July 30, 2018 between GSA and the White House concerning
the renovation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(“FBI”) headquarters. Following Defendant's
initial search, Defendant notified Plaintiff that no
documents were found. However, Defendant later conducted
another search using terms and parameters suggested by
Plaintiff. Ultimately, Defendant located 52 pages of
responsive records, 25 pages of which were released with
certain redactions. The parties have filed cross-motions for
summary judgment on the issues of whether or not
Defendant's search, withholding of documents, and
redactions violated FIOA.
consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant legal
authorities, and the record as it currently stands, the Court
GRANTS IN PART and DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART
Plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES
WITHOUT PREJUDICE Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment. The Court concludes that Defendant's search
conducted in response to Plaintiffs FOIA request was
inadequate. As such, the Court GRANTS IN PART Plaintiffs
Motion. In an effort to avoid piecemeal litigation, the Court
otherwise DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiffs and
Defendant's motions so that Defendant can conduct an
adequate search and identify, disclose, redact, or withhold
any additional records prior to the Court's resolution of
the remaining issues.
July 30, 2018 FOIA request, Plaintiff sought to acquire
“all communications from January 20, 2017 to [July 30,
2018] between GSA and the White House concerning the
renovation of the FBI headquarters.” Pl.'s
Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Pl.'s
Statement”), ECF No. 19-9, ¶¶ 1-2; Def's
Res. to Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts
(“Def's Res.”), ECF No. 22, ¶¶ 1-2.
Following Plaintiffs request, on August 27, 2018, the
GSA's Office of the Inspector General released a
“Review of GSA's Revised Plan for the Federal
Bureau of Investigation Headquarters Consolidation
Project” which described meetings between GSA and the
White House as well as specific emails concerning those
meetings. Id. at ¶¶ 3-5; Id. at
• Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summary
Judgment and Opp'n to Def's Mot. for Judgment on the
Pleadings, to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment, ECF No.
[19-1] (“Pl.'s Mot.”);
• Reply in Support of Def's Mot. on the Pleadings,
to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment and Opp'n to
Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 
(“Def's Reply”); and
• Reply in Support of Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summary
Judgment, ECF No.  (“Pl.'s Reply”).
exercise of its discretion, the Court finds that holding oral
argument in this action would not be of assistance in
rendering a decision. See LCvR 7(f).
Defendant failed to respond to Plaintiff's request within
the statutory deadline, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on
September 4, 2018. A little over a month later, on October
18, 2018, the United States House Committee on Oversight and
Reform (“House Oversight Committee”) publicly
released at least three emails concerning the renovation of
the FBI headquarters. Id. at ¶ 7; Id.
at ¶ 7. First, a January 25, 2018 email exchange between
a White House Official and a GSA official concerned the
“path forward for the new FBI Headquarters
announcement” which the “President” had
“signed off on.” Id. at ¶ 8a;
Id. at ¶ 8a. Second, a January 28, 2018 email
between GSA officials asked that the “DOJ/FBI”
“memoraliz[e] what was decided in the meeting with
POTUS” regarding the FBI headquarters. GSA requested
that the memorialized document “recap the oval meeting
with what POTUS directed everyone to do” and
“then ask Emily [Murphy with GSA] to execute
POTUS's orders.” Id. at ¶ 8b;
Id. at ¶ 8b. Finally, the House Oversight
Committee released a January 28, 2018 email exchange in which
GSA officials forwarded an email from the Office of
Management and Budget (“OMB”) explaining that the
FBI headquarters project is “a demolition/new
construction [project] per the President's
instructions.” Id. at ¶ 8c; Id.
at ¶ 8c.
on the same day that the House Oversight Committee released
these emails, the parties conducted a teleconference during
which Defendant explained that its search had uncovered no
records responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request.
Id. at ¶ 9; Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff
responded by alleging that the emails released by the House
Oversight Committee appeared to be responsive to its FOIA
request, thus casting doubt on the adequacy of
Defendant's search. Id. at ¶ 10;
Id. at ¶ 10.
October 25, 2018, Defendant agreed to conduct another search
using terms and parameters suggested by Plaintiff based on
the language from the publicly released emails. Id.
at ¶ 11; Id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff provided
Defendant with the following search proposal:
• Date range: January 20, 2017 to July
• Custodians: emails between any GSA
email address and any White House/EOP email address
• Search terms: