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Davidson v. U.S., No. 14-1358, 2017 WL 3835676 (D.D.C. Aug. 31, 2017) (Contreras, J.)


Davidson v. U.S., No. 14-1358, 2017 WL 3835676 (D.D.C. Aug. 31, 2017) (Contreras, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning how defendant's handled requester's previous communications

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "Because the Department has conducted an adequate search of its records, the Court will enter summary judgment in its favor with respect to the adequacy of its search."  "[T]he Court notes that '[f]or almost all of the searches that the Department . . . conduct[ed], . . . the Department's [first] declaration suffice[d] to provide a "relatively detailed" account of the scope of its search.'"  "However, as the Court explained in its last memorandum opinion, because [plaintiff] 'raised the issue of files that the agency [did] not search,' 'to prevail on any renewed motion for summary judgment, the Department must address how its search accounts for the possibility of responsive documents [in those locations].'"  The court finds that "[t]he supplemental . . . declaration shows that the Department's latest search met the requirements set by the Court in its previous memorandum opinion."  "The Department's affiant identifies the offices and data systems that were chosen to be searched based on familiarity with the Department."  "For each record system, the affiant explains which office or officer conducted the research and identifies the search terms used."  "Taken together, as with most of the Department's previous searches, the agency has satisfied the requirement of providing a 'relatively detailed' affidavit describing its search with respect to the areas identified by the Court."
  • Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration:  "[T]he Court will enter summary judgment for Defendant with respect to the adequacy of its Vaughn indices."  The court finds that "[b]oth Vaughn indices adequately describe the records (or portions) withheld and the exemptions justifying their withholding."  "Each declaration generally describes the length of the document, its classification level, its potential relevance to [plaintiff's] request, and other information contextualizing the basis for the document's withholding."
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  "The Court is satisfied that [two] categories of documents were properly withheld."  "The documents relating to proposed responses to [plaintiff] were, by their nature, 'pred[e]cisional,' because they were shared drafts of the Department's proposed response to [plaintiff]."  "The documents were also prototypically 'deliberative;' they involved the discussion of drafting a letter to [plaintiff] and red-line edits of the proposed response."  "The same logic applies to communications pertaining to potential responses to a potential lawsuit."  "Before the agency had made up its mind on how to proceed, it discussed the prospect of a lawsuit, 'next steps,' and the potential for employees to be represented by the Justice Department."  "These communications were 'generated before the adoption of an agency policy' on the litigation at a time when the Department was actively formulating a litigation strategy, and thus reflect 'the give-and-take of the consultative process.'"
  • Exemption 5, Attorney Work-Product Privilege & Attorney-Client Privilege:  The court holds that "documents originat[ing] from either 'the Department's Office of the Legal Adviser,' . . . 'DOS attorneys,' . . . or 'the Department of Justice,' . . . and contain[ing] legal advice on the prospect of a complaint by [plaintiff] . . . or the complaint eventually filed by [plaintiff] . . . fall squarely within the scope of both the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine."  The court finds similarly with regard to "'internal Department letters . . . regarding [DOJ] representation for a DOS employee,' . . . and 'coversheet[s] regarding action on a letter from [plaintiff].'"
  • Exemption 6:  "Because Defendant makes the same argument supported by nearly identical Vaughn-index language and [plaintiff] has not meaningfully responded or otherwise identified any public interest in the redacted information, the Court will again grant the Department's motion for summary judgment on its Exemption 6 withholdings [of the names and personal contact information of its employees]."  "The Court previously decided this issue under nearly identical circumstances with respect to Defendant's first motion for summary judgment."  The court quotes its prior opinion on the issue which held that "[b]ecause knowledge [of employees' names and contact information] would reveal 'little or nothing' more about the Department's conduct than the other information released to [plaintiff], . . . and because [plaintiff] has made no argument asserting a public interest in knowing the employees' names and contact information . . . the Court determines that no public interest exists to justify disclosure of the employees' names and contact information."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 5, Attorney Work-Product Privilege
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations
Updated December 14, 2021