Request for records used to calculate plaintiff's original and adjusted Railroad Retirement Board benefit amounts
Granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; denying defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Adequacy of Search: The court finds “that Defendant improperly withheld agency records because Defendant has not established that its search for responsive documents was adequate or reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." The defendant searched three databases for responsive records and "maintains that all records located in these central repositories were disclosed to Plaintiffs." However, "Plaintiffs had in their possession [documents] which were not included by Defendant as part of its initial response to their FOIA requests." Although the defendant argues “that these documents likely were not scanned into its imaging system" and that "Plaintiffs are not harmed in any way by Defendant's failure to produce them, since they had access to these documents," the court finds that the defendant "cited no authority for excusing an agency from its FOIA obligations because the requester was not harmed." The court notes "[t]he existence of these additional documents poses a serious challenge to Defendant's claim that its initial search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." The plaintiffs also "cite to numerous other responsive documents that have been produced over the course of this litigation and throughout the administrative proceedings regarding calculation of their benefits." The court concludes, "[t]he number of documents that have been produced subsequently, many of them clearly in existence in Defendant's records somewhere at the time the initial search was done, clearly indicates that the search was inadequate."
- Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: Defendant argues “that because it made no full or partial denial of Plaintiffs' FOIA requests, it had no obligation to inform them of their right to appeal." The court concludes that because the "production of documents was not complete . . . Plaintiffs should have been notified of their right to appeal Defendant's response to their FOIA request before they would be required to exhaust administrative remedies." The court finds "that Plaintiffs should be deemed to have exhausted their administrative remedies and such failure to exhaust is not a proper ground for denial of their motion for summary judgment in this case."