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Competitive Enter. Inst. v. EPA, No. 15-215, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27580 (D.D.C. Mar. 4, 2016) (Collyer, J.)


Competitive Enter. Inst. v. EPA, No. 15-215, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27580 (D.D.C. Mar. 4, 2016) (Collyer, J.)

Re: Requests for certain e-mails and text messages concerning, sent to, or written by EPA administrator

Disposition: Denying without prejudice defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  "The Court will deny without prejudice EPA's motion for summary judgment and order EPA to provide a technical and complete explanation of the technology used to process the Institute's appeal, including an explanation of how a January 8, 2015 email was not received until January 12, 2015."  The court relates that "EPA directs FOIA appellants to send their appeals to an email address . . . from which they are sorted and delivered internally."  "Notably, because EPA's argument does not distinguish between FOIA requests and FOIA appeals--or explain whether an email to its FOIA website is maintained by EPA or an outside vendor--the argument does not say when the Institute's appeal was received by EPA and, thus, whether the Institute's present lawsuit is premature."  "EPA does not explain the communication technology at work here, whereby a message emailed to a public address on a Thursday was somehow not delivered until the following Monday."  "Since there are possible explanations (outside contractors, technical limitations, etc.) for this seeming discrepancy but none is provided, the Court cannot determine on this record when the Institute's email was actually received by EPA."  "The threshold question of timeliness is therefore impossible to answer."
  • Procedural Requirements, Time Limits:  The court holds that "[n]or is the timeliness issue resolved by EPA's request for an extension due to 'unusual circumstances[.]"  The court finds that "[i]f an agency fails to respond to an initial request on a timely basis, but responds before a requestor files suit, the requester must appeal that decision and exhaust administrative remedies before going to court."  However, the court finds that this principle "concern[s] an agency's tardy response to a FOIA request, not a tardy response to an appeal."  The court instead finds that "'[o]nce the head of the agency has made a determination on appeal or the twenty-day statutory deadline for the appeal decision has passed, he may bring suit in federal district court.'"  The court finds that this "[does] not erase an agency's ability to claim more time to handle an appeal due to unusual circumstances."  "Here, however, EPA may have notified [plaintiff] too late."  "If so, . . .  [plaintiff's] suit would not be premature."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Procedural Requirements, Time Limits
Updated January 24, 2022