Gatore v. DHS, No. 15-459, 2016 WL 1367730 (D.D.C. Apr. 6, 2016) (Walton, J.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Gatore v. DHS, No. 15-459, 2016 WL 1367730 (D.D.C. Apr. 6, 2016) (Walton, J.)

Re: Requests for assessments prepared by asylum officer after interviewing each plaintiff

Disposition: Denying defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "The Court will . . . require the defendant to submit a revised Vaughn index, affidavit, or declaration, that reassesses the issue of segregability as to each of the individual plaintiffs' assessments, and provides an adequate description of each assessment to support the defendant's assertion that no portion may be released."  First, the court notes that "plaintiffs[] do not appear to challenge the applicability of Exemption 5; instead, the dispute revolves around whether some portion of the assessments is reasonably segregable from the exempt portions of the documents."  The court then first finds that "[defendant's] Declaration discusses the segregability of the assessments in a categorical fashion, as opposed to providing a description of the assessments prepared in each of the individual plaintiffs' cases."  "The Court is therefore unable to conduct a de novo assessment of the agency's determination of segregability as to each of the individual plaintiffs' requests."  "Second, the defendant's representation that it conducted a 'line-by-line examination' of each of the assessments to determine whether any portions were reasonably segregable . . . is seemingly undermined by what appears to be the defendant's blanket policy not to release any portion of an assessment, irrespective of its contents."  Finally, the court looks to two cases which "which both involved the same type of assessment at issue here" and finds that "[it] is persuaded by [those cases] that there may be some portion of the assessments at issue in this case that contain factual information that may reasonably be segregated from the whole."
  • Attorney Fees:  Plaintiffs "allege[] that the defendant failed to timely respond to [their]  FOIA request, and as a result, [they are] entitled to an award of costs and attorney fees."  The court finds that "defendant's reliance on the 'unusual circumstances' provision [as a response to this claim] is . . . unavailing."  The court explains that "the FOIA's 'unusual circumstances' provision only allows an additional ten-working-day extension, i.e., from twenty to thirty working days, . . . and requires the agency to indicate 'the date on which a determination is expected to be dispatched[.]'"  "And the defendant's February 18, 2015 letter did not indicate when the agency expected to issue a determination." 

"All that said [regarding the time limits issue], however, the plaintiffs have failed to address this Circuit's standard for the award of costs and attorney fees under the FOIA."  "The plaintiffs do not address any of [the required] elements in their partial summary judgment motion, and accordingly, the motion must be denied."

Attorney Fees
District Court
Litigation Considerations
Updated May 31, 2016