Buckovetz v. Dep't of the Navy, No. 15-838, 2016 WL 1529901 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2016) (Benitez, J.)

Date: 
Thursday, April 14, 2016

Buckovetz v. Dep't of the Navy, No. 15-838, 2016 WL 1529901 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2016) (Benitez, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning sexual harassment complaint

Disposition: Denying defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for in camera review

  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The court holds that, "[v]iewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Defendant has not sufficiently demonstrated that it conducted an adequate search under the FOIA."  The court relates that a "Counsel for Labor & Employment Law" "concluded that all the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product."  However, defendant "subsequently found more documents which were responsive to Plaintiff's request, and Defendant released them subject to redactions."  The court finds that "[i]t does not appear that [the FOIA Coordinator] reviewed any documents to determine whether they were responsive to Plaintiff's request or asked other staff members to identify the documents they thought might be responsive, yet subject to exemption."  Additionally, the court finds that "[d]efendant did not respond to Plaintiff's arguments" concerning other locations which could have responsive records and other documents which should have been located.
     
  • Exemption 6 & Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration:  The court finds that defendant's "declaration is vague and conclusory."  Additionally, the court finds that "the Vaughn index is largely inadequate."  As an example, the court relates that "[d]efendant provides no information as to why disclosing names associated with [an] email string would qualify as a 'clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"  As another example, the court relates that "[d]efendant provides no factual basis or authority for redacting names of individuals discussing 'the process with which complaints will be investigated.'"
     
  • Exemption 5 & Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration:  The court holds that "[d]efendant failed to meet its burden of showing that the responsive documents are subject to Exemption 5."  "The Vaughn index provided does not address a single document withheld, in full or in part, by Exemption 5."  "Nor does [the FOIA Coordinator] describe the requested documents in detail."  "Instead, [the FOIA Coordinator] states that she requested any responsive documents, was informed they were all communications with an attorney and that the attorney exerted privilege under section 552(b)(5)."  "The Court 'is not allowed to grant summary judgment based on such conclusory statements.'"
     
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  "As Defendant has failed to publicly provide detailed affidavits and an adequate Vaughn index, the Court cannot grant Plaintiff's request."  "Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for in camera review is denied."
Topic: 
Declarations
District Court
Exemption 5
Exemption 6
In Camera Review
Litigation Considerations
Procedural
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Vaughn Index
Updated June 2, 2016