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Hall & Assocs. v. EPA, No. 14-808, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178571 (D.D.C. Dec. 31, 2014) (Bates, J.)


Hall & Assocs. v. EPA, No. 14-808, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178571 (D.D.C. Dec. 31, 2014) (Bates, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning effect of plaintiff's client's lawsuit against EPA

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion to dismiss

  • Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  Regarding the withholdings at issue, the court holds that plaintiff failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.  The court first notes that "[c]ourts . . . treat exhaustion as 'a condition precedent to the bringing of a FOIA action,' which means that a plaintiff's failure to exhaust a FOIA claim is 'properly the subject of a motion [to dismiss] brought under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.'"  The court then finds that "[plaintiff], in short, failed to raise any specific complaint regarding EPA's withholding behavior, it did not put the Agency on notice of its looming withholding claim, and it therefore deprived EPA--and this Court--of the benefits of exhaustion."  The court finds that plaintiff's "background sentence[s] use[d] the words 'withhold' and 'inappropriate,' but these two words could not put EPA on notice that [plaintiff] took issue with the Agency's use of FOIA exemptions to withhold documents."  The court finds that "[plaintiff] was obligated to do more than just generally appeal EPA's final response letter."  "The firm, instead, was required to clearly and specifically appeal each adverse determination within the response letter that it disagreed with and sought review of--including EPA's determination 'to withhold . . . requested record[s].'"

    Regarding the remainder of plaintiff's claims concerning defendant's search and the fees charged for plaintiff's request, the court holds that "[t]o the extent these claims reiterate the arguments from [plaintiff's earlier] appeal letter . . . [plaintiff] has administratively exhausted these claims."
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that plaintiff's "claim fails because general complaints about the results of a search do not amount to a cognizable FOIA claim."  Instead, the court holds that "FOIA recognizes challenges to the adequacy of an agency's search (the methods used in the search, the places searched, etc.), although [plaintiff], of course, did not raise such a claim, focusing instead on the . . . results obtained from EPA's search."
  • Fees and Fee Waivers, Fees:  The court finds plaintiff's claim relating to fees inadequate.  The court holds that "[plaintiff] has not offered any alternative factual allegation to support its excessive-fee claim."  Specifically, the court relates that "[plaintiff's] complaint does not challenge any aspect of EPA's invoice--not the number of hours the Agency spent on its search, not the billing rate the Agency used to calculate its fee, etc."  "Without more, the Court is left with [plaintiff's] bare assertion that EPA's fee is somehow excessive or inappropriate."  "This is not enough to avoid dismissal."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Fees and Fee Waivers
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Updated November 22, 2021