Burmeister v. HHS, No. 14-00133, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122809 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 2, 2014) (Chhabria, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning decision by HHS to contract with the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study on condition of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's request for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: The court holds that "[b]ecause [defendant's] supplemental declaration demonstrates that the government adopted an unreasonably narrow interpretation of [plaintiff's] request, because [defendant] concedes [it] would have performed a much broader search had [it] interpreted the request correctly, and because that search would have uncovered additional records responsive to the request, the government has 'improperly withheld agency records' in violation of FOIA."
- Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal: The court relates that "the government contends that even if [plaintiff] had the right to file her lawsuit because HHS failed to respond to her request within the time period required by FOIA, its subsequent production to [plaintiff] moots the lawsuit, even if the production was deficient." However, the court holds that "the case law says exactly the opposite."
- Litigation Considerations, Discovery: The court holds that "[plaintiff] is entitled to summary judgment, and there is no need to conduct discovery about, or otherwise explore, whether the government's search was adequate." "She has already established a FOIA violation, and the government must go back to the drawing board and conduct a proper search, this time under court order."