Amadis v. DOJ, No. 16-2230, 2019 WL 400619 (D.D.C. Jan. 31, 2019) (McFadden, J.)
Re: Requests for records concerning decision to deny plaintiff's visa applications
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: The court holds that "because [plaintiff] failed to appeal the DEA and the FBI's decisions to OIP, he has not exhausted his administrative remedies [regarding these two requests]." The court relates that "[b]oth agencies also told [plaintiff] that he could appeal their adverse determinations." "[Plaintiff], however, appealed neither decision to OIP before amending his Complaint to add [these requests]." The court relates that "[plaintiff] argues that the agencies' responses did not trigger the administrative exhaustion requirement." "[Plaintiff] reasons that because the DEA and the FBI offered to conduct additional searches if he submitted more information, the agencies' respective responses were not final 'determinations.'" The court finds that "[a]n agency's offer to conduct an 'additional' search does not alter the final, appealable nature of its determination." "Instead, it allows a requester additional process that is not required by FOIA." "But this courtesy offer to do more than FOIA requires does not vitiate the administrative exhaustion requirement."
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: First, the court finds that "[t]he DEA 'searched the computer database that most likely would identify responsive records.'" "'Nothing more is required.'" Additionally, the court holds that "DEA was not separately required to comb through employee emails when it had reasonably determined that any email relevant to the processing of [plaintiff's] initial FOIA request would be in [one file]."
Second, the court finds that "[plaintiff's] request to OIP was for 'all records . . . memorializing or describing' OIP's processing of his two appeals." "He did not seek all records in his appeals files." The court explains that "if, for example, OIP had created a list of the records it received from the FBI and the DEA while processing [plaintiff's] appeals, that list would be responsive because it memorializes or describes OIP's processing of the appeal." "But the listed records themselves memorialize or describe only the prior work by the FBI and the DEA, not OIP's processing of the appeal."
Third, the court finds that "it was reasonable for State to use the FOIA case number as a unique identifier to search various databases, and it conducted an adequate search for records responsive to [plaintiff's] FOIA request." The court finds that "[plaintiff's] claim that 'email searches normally require several different search terms, [one] of which [is] names,' . . . lacks support."
- Exemption 7(E), Glomar: The court holds that "because the FBI withheld only records related to its search that produced a 'No Records'/Glomar response, it properly withheld those records under Exemption 7(E)." The court relates that "courts allow the FBI to withhold search slips from 'No Records' responses under Exemption 7(E)." The court finds that "[s]earch slips, FDPS case notes, and other search material gathered in response to requests under the FOIA are derived/complied from and/or reflect information that would revel FBI criminal investigations and/or national security files.'" "And search slips 'reflect sensitive investigative information and contain specific law enforcement details such as file numbers and the current status of investigations.'" "'The same holds true for FDPS case notes.'" "Indeed, 'there is little meaningful difference between records compiled for law enforcement purposes and information relating to the search of those records.'"
- Exemption 6: The court holds that "[plaintiff] has conceded that OIP appropriately withheld the FBI employee's information under Exemption 6."
- Exemption 5, Deliberative process Privilege: The court holds that "OIP properly withheld its attorneys' notes and recommendations on the Blitz Forms under Exemption 5." The court finds that "[t]he deliberative process privilege attaches to the portions of Blitz Forms at issue." The court relates that "[t]he redacted information at issue reflects OIP's attorneys' 'evaluations, analysis, recommendations, and discussions in contemplation of the adjudication of [plaintiff's] administrative appeals.'" "That information is both predecisional and deliberative, and properly withheld under Exemption 5." The court also reject's plaintiff's assertion that, given the absence of supervisor comments on some of the forms, "that the attorneys who write the Blitz Forms are the de facto final decisionmakers."