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Carter, Fullerton & Hayes v. FTC, No. 1:12-cv-448, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24850 (E.D. Va. Feb. 21, 2013) (O'Grady, J.)

Re: Request for records relating to FTC's interactions with alcoholic beverage industry Disposition: Denying defendant's motion for summary judgment
  • Adequacy of the Search: The court finds that "[t]he agency's numerous missteps throughout the drawn out FOIA process raise significant doubts in the eyes of the Court that the FTC's search was reasonably calculated to uncover all responsive records." Although the defendant's declaration states the search used "the search terms provided by [plaintiff's request]," the search failed to produce records from an office specified in the request that had released a paper on the topic requested by the plaintiff. Additionally, the court rejects the defendant's assertion that its search was reasonable because "the FTC's Oracle Business Objects IX database returned no results" for the office in question. The court explains, "FOIA requires the Court apply a reasonableness standard rather than simply looking to the typical or most efficient method of conducting a search," and denies defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the adequacy of the search.
  • Allegations of Bad Faith: "The unjustifiably long delay leaves the Court with doubts that the agency's search was conducted in keeping with the FOIA statute, or in keeping with the Act's intent."
  • Segregability: Plaintiff notes that "more than 70 percent of the documents withheld from Plaintiff were exempted in whole." The court explains, "[d]espite Plaintiff's inability to rebut Defendant's claim that segregability was proper for each document, the burden remains on the agency to show that it properly fulfilled the requirements under the FOIA." The affidavits and Vaughn Index put forth by the defendant "do not offer sufficient information for the Court to conclusively determine that the FTC complied with the segregability requirements."
  • Vaughn Index: The court finds that the defendant's Vaughn Index "does not provide sufficient information" for the court to determine that the documents were properly withheld pursuant to Exemptions 5 and 6. Additionally, "the shortcomings of the FTC's initial fulfillment of the FOIA request casts substantial doubt on the agency's claim that it satisfied all its burdens when withholding documents."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations
Updated August 6, 2014