Skip to main content

Env't Integrity Project v. GSA, No. 18-0042, 2021 WL 3464337 (D.D.C. Aug. 6, 2021) (Brown Jackson, J.)


Env't Integrity Project v. GSA, No. 18-0042, 2021 WL 3464337 (D.D.C. Aug. 6, 2021) (Brown Jackson, J.)

Re:  Request for certain travel reports

Disposition:  Declining to adopt magistrate judge's report and recommendation; granting in part plaintiff's motion for attorney fees; awarding plaintiff $36,578.50 in attorneys' fees and $422.92 in costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  "In [the] Court's view, the record plainly supports [plaintiff's] argument that its lawsuit substantially caused GSA to change its position on both of the identified issues."  Regarding defendant's belated response, the court first finds that "GSA has not made any effort whatsoever to connect the dots between the number of open FOIA cases it had at the time [plaintiff] submitted its request and GSA's failure to process [plaintiff's] appeal in a timely manner."  "And it is also noteworthy that GSA was able to deny [plaintiff's] request for records just one day after [plaintiff] submitted the request notwithstanding the alleged administrative backlog . . . which suggests that GSA has some procedure in place for streamlining its responses to FOIA requests under certain circumstances."  More substantively, regarding "GSA's decision to refer [plaintiff's] request to EPA and DOI directly, it is clear to this Court that GSA's direct-referral decision represented a change from GSA's original position concerning its own duties."  "In its initial response to [plaintiff's] FOIA request, GSA disclaimed any responsibility for providing the requested records; indeed, it expressly proclaimed that, 'in order to obtain the travel information requested, [EIP] should submit [its] request directly to the agencies.'"  "What the record . . . show[s] is that GSA did not agree to refer [plaintiff's] request to the agencies until approximately three months after [plaintiff] filed an administrative appeal that argued that GSA had such a duty, and the direct referral was made just three days before GSA's answer to [plaintiff's] complaint in this action was due."  Moreover, "after [plaintiff] pointed out numerous issues with GSA's initial referrals GSA changed its tune . . . ; it promptly sent another round of emails to EPA and DOI, attaching [plaintiff's] FOIA request . . . ."  The court finds that "contrary to GSA's assertions, the record demonstrates that GSA's re-referrals did precipitate EPA's and DOI's responses to [plaintiff's] FOIA request."
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  "[T]he Court . . . concludes that [plaintiff] is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs."  "Beginning with the first factor, there is no question that the public derived a benefit from [plaintiff's] lawsuit."  "[Plaintiff] contends that the public derived an important benefit from the lawsuit, because at the time of [plaintiff's] request, there were significant national controversies concerning frequent, excessive, and potentially illegal travel expenditures' by the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of the Interior, which raised questions about the 'potential abuse of taxpayer money' and the agencies' adherence to federal travel reporting requirements."  "[Plaintiff] also notes that, by seeking and obtaining the requested records, it was able to expose the fact that EPA had failed to provide all of the necessary information in its reports to GSA, and, as a consequence, [plaintiff] 'forwarded the records it obtained to the EPA Office of Inspector General[ ] to assist in [the Office's] on-going ethics reviews.'"  "The Court reaches the same conclusion with respect to the second and third entitlement factors – the commercial benefit that the plaintiff obtained and the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records sought."  "[Plaintiff] argues that, as a '501(c)(3) nonprofit public interest organization[,]' it has 'no commercial interest in the requested records [because it] sought the records at issue expressly for public dissemination on an issue of public importance[,]' and has made the records publicly available at no charge."  "Based on these representations – which GSA does not dispute – the Court finds that the 'commercial benefit' and 'nature of interest' factors weigh in [plaintiff's] favor as well."  "The remaining factor, and the only one that GSA explicitly contests, is the reasonableness of the agency's withholdings."  "GSA's referral procedure plainly impaired [plaintiff's] ability to obtain the requested records promptly."  "That is, when GSA first received [plaintiff's] FOIA request, it did not even attempt to refer the request to EPA and DOI directly; rather, it put the onus on [plaintiff] to file separate requests with each agency."  "And, notably, GSA's response not only placed a significant burden on [plaintiff], but also contravened GSA's own regulations, which, at the time [plaintiff] submitted its FOIA request, provided that '[i]f GSA receives a request for access to records that are known to be the primary responsibility of another agency, GSA will refer the request to the agency concerned for appropriate action.'"  "Furthermore, when GSA later did refer [plaintiff's] request to EPA and DOI, it failed to ensure that it had provided both agencies with [plaintiff's] proper contact information, and did not attach a copy of [plaintiff's] request or the responsive documents."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  "To begin, there is no dispute that [plaintiff's] requested hourly rates are reasonable."  "To calculate the hourly rates for each of its attorneys, [plaintiff] used the USAO's Revised 2015-2019 Matrix, which sets standard hourly rates for lawyers in the District of Columbia based on differing levels of experience."  The court notes that "GSA does not contest [plaintiff's] use or application of the USAO Matrix."  "As for the time spent on this litigation, the Court has determined that [plaintiff's] requested hours must be reduced slightly . . . ."  "[T]he Court will exercise its discretion to reduce [plaintiff's] requested fees by $307, in order to account for three billing entries that the Court deems unreasonable: namely, the entries for time spent reviewing and correcting billing records."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated September 15, 2021