Gahagan v. USCIS, No. 15-2540, 2016 WL 3997049 (E.D. La. July 26, 2016) (Vance, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff's client
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion to hold defendant in contempt
- Procedural Requirements, Consultations and Referrals: The court holds that "USCIS is entitled to summary judgment with respect to the four pages of records that it referred to the Department of State." The court finds that "USCIS now submits a declaration . . . stat[ing] that the Department of State has produced the four pages of records referred by USCIS to plaintiff with minimal redactions." "Plaintiff does not dispute that the Department of State has released the relevant information; nor does he contest the Department of State's justification for its withholdings."
- Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal: The court finds that "although USCIS initially withheld [one] document under FOIA exemption 5, the agency has since released it to plaintiff in full." "Because USCIS has made [this document] available to plaintiff, the agency has discharged its FOIA duties with respect to that document." The court finds similarly as to other previously withheld, but now released documents.
- Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege: The court holds that "USCIS has adequately explained its conclusion that the withheld portions of [one record] fall within exemption five." The court finds that "redacted portions of [this record] consist of discussions between [a] USCIS counsel . . . and non-attorney personnel concerning litigation against the agency." "Importantly, the entry elaborates on this claim by providing the source and recipient of the communications, as well as a description of the matters discussed."
- Exemption 7(E): The court holds that "USCIS's submissions meet the agency's burden of explaining why [one record] falls within exemption 7(E)." The court finds that "USCIS's Vaughn index states that '[t]he information redacted from this document . . . reflects the manner in which law enforcement agencies return information on applicants for immigration benefits to USCIS.'" "It further states that 'public knowledge of the types of information used by USCIS in conducting background checks would allow applicants for immigration benefits to circumvent the system in order to receive benefits they are not entitled to under' the Immigration and Nationality Act." "These submissions explain in reasonably specific detail how release of the withheld portions of [this record] would risk circumvention of the nation's immigration laws."
- Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration & Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege: The court holds that several of defendant's Vaughn "entries are . . . identical to entries the Court deemed insufficient in ruling on USCIS's first motion for summary judgment." Specifically, as to an attempted Exemption 5 showing, the court finds that "USCIS did clarify elsewhere in its Vaughn index revisions that one of the individuals involved in the relevant email chains is a USCIS attorney." "But 'the attorney-client privilege does not extend to communications simply because they involve the government’s counsel.'" Overall, the court finds that, "[a]bsent some additional explanation of what the challenged documents contain and why their contents were withheld, USCIS is not entitled to summary judgments with respect to any of the challenged documents."
- Litigation Considerations, Relief: The court holds that "[c]ivil contempt is unwarranted in this case because plaintiff has not established that USCIS is in violation of a judicial order." "That the newly-provided information fails to show that USCIS is entitled to summary judgment with respect to [certain records] does not mean the agency flouted a judicial decree." "It merely shows that unless USCIS provides additional explanation for its non-disclosure of those documents, it is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law." "Moreover, although plaintiff seeks an order declaring that USCIS has defended this lawsuit in bad faith, the record does not support his request."