United States District Court, District of Columbia
WILLIAM E. POWELL, Plaintiff,
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, Defendant.
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
se Plaintiff William E. Powell's long pursuit of tax
information about his family, their trusts and estates, and
their printing business has spurred him to bring at least six
suits against Defendant Internal Revenue Service - three in
the Eastern District of Michigan and three here. In the
instant case, Plaintiff alleges that the IRS's response,
or lack thereof, to several records requests constitutes a
violation of the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information
Act. Only three claims remain after the Court's first
summary-judgment Opinion, and the Government now moves for
judgment on them. The Court accedes and will grant the
full history of this case is laid out in the Court's
prior Opinion. See Powell v. IRS, 317 F.Supp.3d 266,
270-71 (D.D.C. 2018). As relevant here, Plaintiff's First
Amended, Second Amended, and Supplemental Complaints alleged
Privacy Act and FOIA violations relating to his requests for
tax records pertaining to himself (William E. Powell), his
father (William A. Powell), his grandfather (Andrew Powell),
the family's printing company under two names (recently,
the Powell Printing Company; formerly, the Andrew Powell
Printing Company), his father's estate, his father's
trust, and his grandfather's trust. Id. at
273-74 (listing requests in each Complaint by taxpayer).
5, 2018, this Court granted the IRS summary judgment as to
all but two matters. First, it found that Plaintiff had
sufficiently pleaded a request for the Powell Printing
Company's 1989 tax records. Id. at 275. The
second claim to survive was Powell's allegation that the
IRS had not adequately searched for the original of his
father's Form 706, which he seeks as a way of locating
Plaintiff's own K-1 information, which may have been
attached to the Form 706. Id. at 280-81. Upon
Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration, the Court ordered
that Powell was also entitled to receive the tax records he
had requested for Andrew Powell as an individual, since he
had “sufficiently established he is next of kin to his
grandfather.” ECF No. 63 (Order Granting in Part and
Denying in Part Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration)
has now filed a Second Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting
first that Powell is barred by claim preclusion as to the
1989 Powell Printing Company tax records and, second, that it
has adequately searched for both the William A. Powell
Estate's Form 706 and the requested individual tax
records of Plaintiff's grandfather, Andrew Powell.
judgment may be granted 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). A genuine issue of material fact is one
that would change the outcome of the litigation. See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986) (“Only disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment.”). In the event
of conflicting evidence on a material issue, the Court is to
construe the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. See Sample v. Bureau of
Prisons, 466 F.3d 1086, 1087 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Factual
assertions in the moving party's affidavits or
declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing
party submits his own affidavits, declarations, or
documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly,
963 F.2d 453, 456-57 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for
summary judgment.” Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S.
Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009);
see Bigwood v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., 484
F.Supp.2d 68, 73 (D.D.C. 2007). In FOIA cases, the agency
bears the ultimate burden of proof to demonstrate the
adequacy of its search and that it properly withheld any
documents. See Defenders of Wildlife, 623 F.Supp.2d
at 88, 91. The Court may grant summary judgment based solely
on information provided in an agency's affidavits or
declarations when they “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). Such
affidavits or declarations 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., Inc. v.
SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting
Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771
(D.C. Cir. 1981)).
there are three separate sets of records at issue here, the
Court looks at each in turn.
Powell Printing Company 1989 Return
first surviving claim is one under the Privacy Act for the
1989 corporate tax return of the Powell Printing Company.
See Powell, 317 F.Supp.3d at 275. Defendant now
argues, as it did in its Answer, that this claim is barred by
the doctrine of claim preclusion, its having been adjudicated
by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Michigan in Powell v. IRS, No. 14-12626, 2015 WL
5271943 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 9, 2015).
subsequent lawsuit is barred by claim preclusion ‘if
there has been prior litigation (1) involving the same claims
or cause of action, (2) between the same parties or their
privies, and (3) there has been a final, valid judgment on
the merits, (4) by a court of competent
jurisdiction.'” Nat. Res. Def. Council v.
EPA, 513 F.3d 257, 260 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting
Smalls v. United States, 471 F.3d 186, 192 (D.C.
Cir. 2006)). As to the first element, “[w]hether two
cases implicate the same cause of action turns on whether
they share the same ‘nucleus of facts.'”
Drake v. FAA, 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002)
(quoting Page v. United ...