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Freedom Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 12-314, 2013 WL 692770 (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2013) (Collyer, J.)

Re: Request for all records concerning sixty-three categories of records pertaining to "waivers the Department of State may have granted to citizens, corporations, or other countries to trade with Iran despite very tough sanctions against that country to prevent its development of nuclear missiles." Disposition: Granting defendants' motion to dismiss because the records requested are not reasonably described
  • Reasonably described records: The court concludes that plaintiff's requests were "invalid ab initio." The court agrees that "[t]he requests failed to identify the documents sought with any modicum of specificity and were thus fatally overbroad and burdensome." The court cites several examples of how broadly the requests were worded. For example, the court notes that one portion of the request "sought 'all' records that 'refer or relate to . . . [a]ny and all communications to or from President Obama, his administration, or the White House in general regarding China.'" The court notes that "the request did not in any way limit the scope of 'his administration' or 'the White House in general' to those persons, for instance, who might have had something to do with China or the waivers of Iran sanctions with which [plaintiff] says it is concerned." The court further comments that "'regarding China' indicates a much broader scope of request than dealing with waivers of sanctions against Iran since 'regarding China' has no identifiable limitation." The court also takes note of the fact that plaintiff refused to narrow its request when approached by the defendant agencies. Accordingly, the court concludes that "[t]he requests were not valid because they did not describe the records sought sufficiently to allow a professional employee familiar with the area in question to locate responsive records." Since the requests were not valid, the court concludes that "no Defendant agency, including State, has violated FOIA by its response, or failure to respond to plaintiff." Accordingly, the court grants the motion to dismiss with regard to all defendant agencies.
  • Exhaustion: The court further notes that the agencies that did respond to plaintiff's request, namely Commerce, National Security Agency, Federal Reserve Board, and Treasury, would also be entitled to dismissal on the basis of plaintiff's failure to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing suit.
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Updated August 6, 2014