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Blixseth v. ICE, No. 19-1292, 2020 WL 210732 (D.D.C. Jan. 14, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)


Blixseth v. ICE, No. 19-1292, 2020 WL 210732 (D.D.C. Jan. 14, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning federal-government actors plaintiff believes conducted searches of his property aimed to intimidate him into dropping a case

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for discovery

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "The Court is . . . satisfied that ICE has fulfilled its search duties under FOIA."  The court finds that "Defendant describes in detail its searches using Plaintiff's suggested terms and in the places he requested."  Additionally, the court finds that "[a]lthough the Government does not incant the 'magic words' – i.e., that it 'searched all locations likely to contain responsive documents,' . . . – it does state that it has searched the offices and databases most likely to contain responsive records, . . . and Plaintiff does not allege that there are other places within ICE that it should have searched."
  • Litigation Considerations, Discovery:  The court denies plaintiff's motion for discovery.  The court holds that "'Plaintiff here has offered no valid reason to question the good faith or efficacy of [ICE]'s search.'"  "As just discussed, ICE has amply acquitted itself of its statutory duty to search."  "'No more is required under FOIA.'"
  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court holds that "because ICE's Homeland Security Investigations office clearly 'specializes in law enforcement,' its determination that these documents were compiled for law-enforcement purposes merits deference."  "The Court's review of the documents, including the unredacted versions in camera, confirms this position."  "Because all the documents constitute records of [the] investigation into the safety of an expedited flight clearance for various aircraft, businesses, and persons, they are law-enforcement records."
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that "[t]he Government has met its burden with respect to its 7(C) redactions."  The court relates that "the information redacted under Exemption 7(C) consists entirely of (1) identifying information about law-enforcement personnel, and (2) sensitive personal information about flight passengers or crew."  Regarding the privacy interests at stake, the court finds that "'law-enforcement personnel who "do[ ] not forgo altogether any privacy claim in matters related to official business"' are entitled to the privacy afforded by FOIA."  Additionally, the court finds that "'"third parties" . . . mentioned in investigatory files maintain a privacy interest "in keeping secret the fact that they were subjects of a law enforcement investigation."'"  "Weighed against these strong privacy interests, [the court holds that] the public interest in disclosure does not tip the scales Plaintiff's way."  "As to the employees' identifying information – viz., agent names and employee numbers – it 'reveals little or nothing about an agency's own conduct' and thus 'does not further the statutory purpose [of FOIA].'"  And in response to plaintiff's general public interest argument which "broadly alleges government misconduct," "[t]he Court's in camera review further confirms that there is no reason to believe misconduct occurred."
  • Exemption 7(E):  The court holds that plaintiff properly invoked Exemption 7(E).  The court finds that "[t]he redacted material includes things like record identification numbers, databases used for investigation, code numbers (but not what they stand for), and the questions and answers to certain inquiries undertaken as part of an . . . investigation."  "The Court therefore credits ICE's assertion that this information 'is not readily known by the public.'"  Regarding whether disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, the court relates that "[defendant] asserts that information like record numbers, databases, and code numbers 'could assist third parties in deciphering the meanings of the codes and/or could enable an individual to navigate, alter, and/or manipulate law enforcement databases.'"  The court finds that "[t]his type of explanation has long been accepted by courts in this Circuit."
  • Procedural Requirements, "Reasonably Segregable" Obligation:  The court "finds that . . . six pages were properly withheld in full."  "The Court . . . has reviewed these pages and agrees with the Government's analysis – i.e., that the non-exempt information cannot be reasonably segregated without either compromising the purpose of the FOIA exemptions or offering meaningless words or phrases."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Procedural Requirements, “Reasonably Segregable” Obligation
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7, Threshold
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Discovery
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Updated March 4, 2020