Thursday, March 12, 2015
Dugan v. DOJ, No. 13-2003, 2015 WL 1090323 (D.D.C. Mar. 12, 2015) (Contreras, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff and plaintiff's business
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, FOIA Requesters: "[T]he Court will not address plaintiff's arguments concerning his criminal prosecution or his purported innocence" because "a FOIA 'requester's identity and purpose for the disclosure are generally immaterial' in determining whether the agency has satisfied its disclosure obligations."
- Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index / Declaration: The court holds that it "may properly rely on defendants' declarations and, thus, denies plaintiff's request 'to strike all portions of all affidavits not base[d] upon personal knowledge....'" because, "contrary to what plaintiff suggests throughout his opposition, an agency's declarant need not have participated directly in the actual processing of a FOIA request to be a competent witness."
- Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion: The court holds that "the claims against DHS and OIP are dismissed not only because plaintiff has failed to exhaust those claims but also because no withholding–improper or otherwise–has occurred." Plaintiff's DHS request was "closed as unperfected" because plaintiff did "not have sufficient information to confirm that entries in its files . . . pertain[ed] to plaintiff." Plaintiff's OIP request was closed because "OIP reasonably interpreted the request as posing a question that did not trigger a disclosure obligation under the FOIA." However, "[u]nlike the claims against DHS and OIP, the claims against ATF and DEA have been fully briefed on the merits." "Hence, the Court finds that the purposes of exhaustion will not be defeated by reaching the merits of those claims and, thus, denies defendants' motion to dismiss the claims against ATF and DEA for failure to exhaust."
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: Regarding ATF's search, "[t]he Court is satisfied from the detailed description of the filing systems searched and the search methods employed that ATF conducted a search reasonably calculated to locate all responsive records." The court explains that "ATF searched '[a]ll indices and file systems . . . by plaintiff's full name.'" Regarding DEA's search, "[t]he Court concludes that DEA conducted a reasonably adequate search for responsive records and, having located no responsive records, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The court explains that, "[a]ccording to the declarant, any responsive records would have been located in DEA's Investigative Reporting and Filing System . . . because that system 'contains all administrative, general and investigative files compiled by DEA for law enforcement purposes'" and that DEA's search "utilizing plaintiff's name, social security number, and date of birth located '[n]o files or reports mention[ing] the plaintiff[.]'"
- Exemption 7, Threshold: "The Court finds the threshold law enforcement requirement satisfied" because "ATF 'is a criminal enforcement agency,'" "ATF's declarant describes the withheld records as pertaining 'to an investigation being conducted by ATF,'" and "[t]he investigation falls within ATF's 'responsibility to administer and enforce the Federal firearm laws at 18 U.S.C. §§ 921–931.'"
- Exemption 7(A): The court holds that, "[g]iven that plaintiff has already been prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced—and appears to have served his sentence, the Court needs considerably more information to conclude that the release of specific types of information will interfere with prospective or ongoing enforcement proceedings." "[ATF] has offered explanations why each category of documents should be exempt from disclosure, . . . but [it] has not properly justified the withholdings under exemption 7(A)." "[ATF] merely concludes that the disclosure of [certain documents] 'would reveal the scope, limits, and direction of the investigation[;]' . . . she does not make this claim at all with regard to [other documents]."
Updated June 18, 2015