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Cato Inst. v. FBI, No. 20-3338, 2022 WL 16635243 (D.D.C. Nov. 2, 2022) (Boasberg, J.)


Cato Inst. v. FBI, No. 20-3338, 2022 WL 16635243 (D.D.C. Nov. 2, 2022) (Boasberg, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search & Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The court holds that “the agency has met its burden to follow all leads and clearly explain its decisions about the scope of its final search.”  “As detailed by [defendant’s] declarations, the agency began with the database most likely to contain the information requested . . . and then, upon the discovery of leads that pointed to records outside of [the Central Records System (“CRS”)], searched those as well.”  “The declaration additionally explains that whatever responsive records may be found in Guardian[, “a separate system ‘for reporting, sharing, tracking, and mitigating a large volume of counterterrorism-based incidents,’”] would also have been uploaded to the CRS database and therefore would have been returned in a search of the latter.”  The court relates that “Plaintiff insists that Defendant should also have searched the Guardian system because the initial FOIA request expressly identified that system as a desired search location.”  “But an express demand that an agency search a specific record system in a FOIA request does not automatically obligate an agency to do so.”  “An agency ‘generally need not “search every record system”’ in response to a FOIA request, but it must nevertheless continually ‘revise its assessment of what [constitutes a] “reasonable” [search] in a particular case to account for leads that emerge during its inquiry.’”  “Plaintiff makes some last-ditch arguments about materials that may not have appeared in CRS searches, including unindexed emails. . . .”  “The FBI has explained that ‘[t]o the extent e-mail records existed at the time . . . and such email records were federal records, these records would reasonably be expected to be found’ from an index search of CRS, which did in fact uncover leads that resulted in additional searches of the manual indices at specific field offices.”  “The D.C. Circuit has held sufficient such searches for FBI emails in the past . . . and Plaintiff offers no reason that this search of CRS – which did in fact prompt the FBI to conduct additional searches of field-office records – should fare any worse.”
  • Exemption 6; Exemption 7(C); Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements:  First, the court finds that “[Exemption 7(C)] governs here because the documents were indeed compiled for investigative and law-enforcement purposes.”  The court notes that “Plaintiff now challenges only Defendant’s ‘withholding of database printouts[, which “contain the names and identifying information of third parties of investigative interest,”] in their entirety.’”  The court finds that “[t]o the extent, then, that individuals can be identified via information contained in the documents at issue, there is little question that ‘[t]he privacy interest at stake is substantial.’”  “Plaintiff ‘does not dispute withholding of nonpublic names of third parties of investigative interest.’”  Additionally, “Plaintiff never counters that disclosure of such records would be in the public interest.”  “Rather, [plaintiff] ‘challenges the sufficiency of Defendants’ proof that the withheld database printouts contain exclusively information that is indeed identifying and pertains to individuals.’”  “Because the dispute over these withholdings boils down to ‘exactly what information is being withheld’ and whether these documents contain any ‘segregable information that is non-identifying,’ . . . [plaintiff] asked this Court to review in camera the records in question to review the exemption claims.”  “The Court has now done so and can address Plaintiff’s challenges.”  “[T]he Court’s in camera review reveals that the identifying information here makes up almost all of the content of the records – and the remainder is inextricably intertwined with such information – confirming that the FBI has indeed ‘provided Plaintiff with “all reasonably segregable, non-exempt information.”’”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records
Updated December 1, 2022