Few v. VA, No. 16-00647, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81016 (D. Conn. May 26, 2017) (Bolden, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning compensation scheme for injuries caused to veterans by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: The court holds that, "[b]ecause these declarations do not 'supply facts indicating that the agency has conducted a thorough search,' . . . summary judgment is inappropriate regarding [defendant's] search for most of the records Plaintiffs requested." The court explains that "[defendant's] declarations do not adequately describe [its] record management scheme." "[Defendant] does not explain how [its] files are organized in the intranet, what the intranet contains, or whether [it] stores information in other networks or databases." Additionally, the court finds that "[d]efendant must establish the adequacy of the search itself, not the records it produced" and "[defendant's] declarations do not explain why [it] excluded [certain search terms]" and some declarations "[do] not identify the search terms . . . used[.]" Also, "[t]he Court is unable to 'determine whether the . . . decision to search only [certain] offices was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents,' . . . making summary judgment inappropriate." Generally, "the Court cannot hold as a matter of law that [certain] declarations . . . are based on sufficient 'personal knowledge' to support a motion for summary judgment." "This is especially true because the declarants provide few details about the searches in question."
- Exemption 6: "Because Defendant represented at oral argument that it will produce additional records in response to Plaintiffs' inquiry about the qualifications of [certain VA employees], the Court will not address whether Exemption 6 would permit redaction of the [employee] names, if Defendant produced no additional records establishing their qualifications." The court does note that "[d]efendant has not established that that VA employees possessed a 'cognizable privacy interest' in all of their personal information" because "[d]efendant does not attest that limited disclosure of [employee] qualifications, de-linked from their names, would allow a 'determined researcher to deduce [employee] name[s]' or location[s], leading to harassment or threats." And, against this privacy interest, that "[p]laintiffs articulate a public interest in the disclosure of [these employees'] qualifications."
- Litigation Considerations, Discovery: "Because Defendant agreed at oral argument that many additional searches would be appropriate, the Court does not see the need to order discovery on the reasonableness of the searches until these supplemental searches are complete." However, the court warns that, following these searches, "to the extent that discovery is still necessary, Plaintiffs will be allowed limited discovery as to the adequacy of Defendant's searches."