Chase v. DOJ, No. 17-274, 2018 WL 1342479 (D.D.C. Mar. 15, 2018) (Boasberg, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff's arrest, booking, and detention
Disposition: Granting defendants' motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: "The Court . . . finds summary judgment proper on the adequacy of the search." The court finds that defendants "explain in detail the steps that [they] took to search for responsive records." The court also finds that "[plaintiff] is indeed correct that Defendants have taken a considerable amount of time to respond to his requests and seem to have dropped the ball a few times with regard to their communications with him." "Unfortunately for [plaintiff], however, this type of conduct does not render Defendants' search inadequate." Finally, the court finds that, "[n]otwithstanding Plaintiff's allegations, this is not a case where one agency has attempted to pass off its FOIA responsibilities to another; rather, EOUSA properly referred material to the FBI."
- Exemption 3: The court holds that "[a]s the documents withheld here encompass transcripts of actual testimony before the grand jury and, as [defendants] attest, contain the identity and descriptions of minor children, they clearly fall within the parameters of Exemption 3." The court relates that defendants' utilized "Rule 6(e), which bars the disclosure of matters occurring before a grand jury" and "the Child Victims' Act[, which] protects from disclosure certain records containing personally identifiable information pertaining to children who were the victim or in some way involved in criminal proceedings."
- Exemption 7(C): The court holds that, "[g]iven the personal nature of the information withheld here – e.g., names and phone numbers of third parties, medical personnel, and law-enforcement agents – the Court finds a substantial privacy interest in the materials." "Even if the Court had found only a modest privacy interest in this personal information, moreover, it would have reached the same outcome because . . . [plaintiff's] request implicates no public interest[.]"
- Exemption 7(E): The court holds that "[t]he release of [a USMS Fed Ex account number], 'generally unknown to the public,' could compromise an investigation and therefore 'reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.'" "As such, this information was properly withheld."
- Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: The court holds that "Defendants persuasively assert that they examined the documents line by line to determine whether any reasonably segregable information could be released and proceeded to withhold only that information that was exempt from disclosure pursuant to a FOIA exemption or so intertwined with exempt information such that segregation was not possible."
- Fees and Fee Waivers, Fee Waivers: The court holds that the FBI properly denied plaintiff's fee waiver request. The court finds that "[a]lthough the records [plaintiff] requested concern the operations or activities of government, their disclosure is unlikely to contribute to or significantly increase the public's understanding of them." "First, Plaintiff has not demonstrated an ability or interest in disclosing the records broadly to the public." "[Plaintiff] has also failed to allege that the release of documents exclusively concerning him would provide a better understanding of the government at large or be of interest to the general public." "Finally, it appears that Plaintiff's primary motivation is to obtain records to assist in challenging his conviction." Responding to plaintiff's argument, the court finds that "[w]hether an agency provides a requester with documents free of charge above and beyond what it is required to by statute has no bearing on whether that agency (or a receiving agency) may later charge that requester for additional material."
- Fees and Fee Waivers, Fees: "The Court, in fact, noting that Defendants had failed to comply with FOIA's timelines for processing requests and appeals, inquired, sua sponte, whether their non-compliance constituted a waiver of their right to request fees." "Although this would have been the case had the FBI been requesting search fees, . . . Defendants clarified that the FBI only requested duplication fees, . . . which an agency can still request regardless of its non-compliance with FOIA's timeliness requirements."