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Long v. Central Intelligence Agency

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 10, 2019

SUSAN B. LONG, et al., Plaintiff,
v.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge.

         In this Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) lawsuit, Plaintiffs Susan B. Long and David Burnham, co-directors of a research center, seek information and records about how the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) processes FOIA requests. The CIA has declined to process certain portions of Plaintiffs' requests and agreed to process others. The parties have cross-moved for partial summary judgment with respect to the items the CIA declined to process, and the CIA has filed an uncontested second motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the items it agreed to process.

         For the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT in part and DENY without prejudice in part both cross-motions for summary judgment, and will GRANT the CIA's uncontested second motion for partial summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are the co-directors of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (“TRAC”), a research center “dedicated to making the actual working of the federal government more readily accessible to the public.” Long Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 19-1.

         A. Processing Data Requests

         On January 23, 2015, Plaintiffs submitted a FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq., request to the CIA, seeking “a case-by-case listing of all FOIA requests received by the FOIA office from October 1, 2012 - December 31, 2014 with the following data fields: (a) Assigned request tracking number; (b) Office (where multiple components); (c) Date of request; (d) Date request was received; (e) Track assigned (where used); [and] (f) Date closed (where closure has occurred).” ECF No. 16-2, Ex. A. On February 20, 2015, the CIA responded, declining to process Plaintiffs' request because its “record systems are not configured in a way that would allow [it] to perform a search reasonably calculated to lead to responsive records without an unreasonable effort.” Id. Ex. B. It offered to provide Plaintiffs with “FOIA case logs that cover the time period of [their] request” containing the date the case was created, the case number, and the subject of the request. Id.

         On March 11, 2015, Long called the CIA FOIA office and spoke with a staffer named Anthony, who confirmed that the FOIA office had the information Plaintiffs had requested stored in its “CADRE database.” Pl.'s SOF ¶ 3, ECF No. 19-3, Long Decl. ¶ 9. He also confirmed that the CADRE database contained a separate record for each FOIA request received, and that each of these records contained the requested date fields (a) and (c)-(f), but that because the CIA had only a single centralized FOIA office, data field (b), relating to multiple offices, was inapplicable. Id. ¶ 11. Finally, Anthony stated that the CADRE database was used to prepare a large number of agency FOIA reports, and had been used to produce the digital files posted on the CIA's website as part of its annual and quarterly FOIA reports. Id. ¶ 12. The CIA does not dispute that this telephone conversation occurred or that Anthony told Long that “the CIA has certain information in its FOIA database.” Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s SOF ¶ 3, ECF No. 24. It asserts, however, that these are not material facts because, even though “[t]he CIA has information like closure dates in its FOIA database, ” in order to “insert closure dates into a report . . . the CIA would have to create a new computer code, not merely run a search with existing computer codes.” Id.

         The next day, Plaintiffs declined to accept the case logs the CIA had offered in its previous letter because the logs did not contain closure dates for each FOIA request. ECF No. 16-2, Ex. C. The CIA responded on April 7, 2015, reiterating that its “record systems are not configured in a way that would allow [the CIA] to perform a search reasonably calculated to lead to responsive records without an unreasonable effort.” Id. Ex. D.

         Over the next 18 months, Plaintiffs submitted six additional FOIA requests, each identical to the first request in all material respects, except that they extended the cut-off date for the requested records.[1] Id. Exs. G, N, P, R, U, W (collectively hereinafter “Processing Data Requests”). The CIA declined to process each of these requests for the same reasons it refused to process Plaintiff's first FOIA request, i.e., because its systems were not configured in a way that would allow it to locate responsive records without unreasonable effort. Id. Exs. H, O, T, V, X (CIA letters declining to process Plaintiffs' remaining Processing Data Requests).

         B. Technical Data Requests

         On June 24, 2014, after submitting their first two Processing Data Requests, Plaintiffs submitted a third FOIA request (the “Technical Data Request”) to the CIA. The 10-part request sought specific records related to various aspects of the CIA's FOIA database. ECF No. 16-2, Ex. K. On September 3, 2015, the CIA agreed to process Items 2, 3, 6, 8, 9(a), 9(c), and 10 of the Technical Data Request, and declined to process Items 1 (as it pertained to the CIA's current FOIA database) and 9(b) because they were extremely broad or vague, and the remainder of Item 1 and Items 4, 5, and 7 because FOIA does not require the government to perform research, answer questions, or create records in response to a FOIA request. Id. Ex. M.

         C. Procedural History

         After exhausting their administrative remedies, Plaintiffs filed this action on October 20, 2015. ECF. No. 1. On August 31, 2017, after a partial stay of proceedings, the CIA completed processing the parts of the Technical Data Request it had agreed to process and released 349 pages in full, 6, 276 pages in part, and withheld 3, 857 pages in full. The CIA invoked FOIA Exemptions 1 (classified information), 3 (information protected from disclosure by other statutes), 4 (confidential commercial information), 5 (information protected by the deliberative process privilege), and 6 (information the release of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy). Def.'s 2d SOF ¶¶ 3-9, ECF No. 36.

         Currently before the court are: (1) the CIA's First Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 16, which concerns the Processing Data Requests and the portions of the Technical Data Request the CIA declined to process; (2) Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment concerning the same items, ECF No. 19; and (3) the CIA's uncontested Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 36, which concerns the portions of the Technical Data Request the CIA agreed to process.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell,433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Summary judgment may be rendered ...


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