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Coleman v. DEA, No. 14-00315, 2015 WL 5730707 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2015) (Mehta, J.)


Coleman v. DEA, No. 14-00315, 2015 WL 5730707 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2015) (Mehta, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning two drugs

Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The court finds that defendant's affidavits "satisf[y] the agency's obligation."  The court explains that "[t]he affidavits explained why the OCC and the ODE were the offices most likely to possess responsive documents and how the DEA came to that conclusion."  "They described the search terms used in both the OCC and the ODE searches."  "And they specified the files searched and the persons who performed the searches."

However, in response to plaintiff's argument "that the DEA failed to conduct an adequate search for responsive records because it unreasonably restricted its search to only two offices," the court holds that "even though the DEA’s original assumption about where documents might be found was reasonable, once it located [two letters], it had an obligation to follow the lead that the Letters presented and search the Deputy Assistant Administrator’s office, unless it had reason to believe that the office would not possess any documents or only duplicate documents."  However, the court also finds that "[a]lthough the court agrees with Plaintiff that the DEA’s search was inadequate because it did not look for responsive material within the Deputy Assistant Administrator’s office, the court disagrees with Plaintiff that the DEA was required to search the offices of the DEA Administrator and the Deputy Administrator."  "Although the [two] Letters originated from those officials, the Letters themselves do not constitute the type of 'clear lead' that would suggest that their offices likely would possess responsive materials."  "The Letters do not contemplate a future role for either the Administrator or the Deputy Administrator—unlike the Deputy Assistant Administrator."  Additionally, the court finds that "[t]o the extent that Plaintiff has a 'hunch,' based on his experience, that the Assistant Administrator’s office is likely to possess responsive records, it is not the kind of factual predicate that justifies ordering a search of that office."  Also, in response to another of plaintiff's arguments, "[t]he court finds that the mere absence of emails, without more, does not render the DEA’s search inadequate."

  • Fees and Fee Waivers, Fee Waivers:  The court holds that "[b]ecause Plaintiff has not established that the DEA’s denial of a fee waiver is likely to cause him future injury, he lacks standing to challenge its policy or practice with respect to those waivers."  The court finds that plaintiff has not "establish[ed] that he is likely to suffer future injury."  "Plaintiff has not averred that he has a pending FOIA request before the DEA; that he intends to make FOIA requests to the DEA in the future; or that, in connection with a future request, he will seek to invoke the public-interest fee waiver."  "Absent such factual assertions, Plaintiff cannot show that he is 'realistically threatened by a repetition of his [past] experience.'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Fees and Fee Waivers
Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records
Updated January 10, 2022