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Coleman v. DEA, No. 11-1999, 2013 WL 1832078 (4th Cir. May 2, 2013) (per curiam)

Re: Request for records concerning the government's regulation of carisoprodol Disposition: Reversing the district court's determination and remanding for the district court to determine the fee category that applies to the request at issue and whether appellant is entitled to a waiver of fees
  • Exhaustion: The court holds that appellant constructively exhausted his administrative remedies once DEA did not respond within twenty days to his request that had been remanded to DEA for further action following administrative appeal.  The court notes that "if an agency does not respond to a request within twenty working days after receiving it, the requester may typically commence litigation."  The court opines that "it is inconceivable that Congress intended to allow agencies to escape FOIA's time limits by sitting on remanded requests indefinitely."  The court concludes that "[a] request upon remand is still a request and . . . must be acted upon within twenty working days."
    The court also finds appellant has exhausted his claims regarding his request for a fee waiver.  While noting that the claim was made "imperfectly," the court finds that appellant's claims "all address the same core question, namely how [appellant's] request should be treated under FOIA's fee assessment scheme."  Finally, the court explains that "FOIA does not require any prepayment of processing fees before a requester may proceed to court to dispute the assessment of those very fees."  The court further notes that appellant "has never refused to pay any fee under any circumstances."  "Rather, he has mounted a reasoned, substantive challenge to his particular fee assessment, and he is entitled to judicial review of that assessment."  Upon remand, "the district court must determine what fee category – commercial or noncommercial – applies to the request at issue and whether [appellant] is eligible for a waiver of any fees otherwise due."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Court of Appeals opinions
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Updated August 6, 2014