Skip to main content

Houser v. HHS, No. 16-0804, 2020 WL 5518228 (D.D.C. Sept. 14, 2020) (Walton, J.)


Houser v. HHS, No. 16-0804, 2020 WL 5518228 (D.D.C. Sept. 14, 2020) (Walton, J.)

Re:  Request for certain records concerning certain health care facilities in Georgia receiving Medicare funds

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "[B]ased on the record outlined above, the Court concludes that the defendant has demonstrated that its searches for responsive records were reasonable under the circumstances of this case."  "Notwithstanding [defendant's] overly-narrow initial interpretation of the plaintiff's FOIA request, the defendant shows that [it] changed course and expanded its search to include program and regulatory records . . . ."  "It sought assistance from the Chief of the Division of Survey and Certification, who searched three sources where responsive records likely would be found."  The court notes that "[defendant] did not place a 'litigation hold' on potentially responsive records after it received the plaintiff's FOIA request."  "As a result, certain survey-related records were destroyed, and could not be provided to the plaintiff."  "The plaintiff has made no showing that [defendant] purposely destroyed documents in order to avoid having to release them, and nothing in the record of this case suggests that [defendant's] error was willful or otherwise warrants further action by the Court."  The court holds that "[a]n agency's search need not be exhaustive, . . . and it need not be perfect."
  • Exemption 6:  "The Court is satisfied that [beneficiary identification numbers and identifying information in survey records] qualify as 'medical or similar files' for purposes of Exemption 6."  "[Defendant] maintains, and the Court concurs, that there is no public interest in disclosure of the redacted information, as disclosure of position titles, room numbers, residents' identifying characteristics, residents' medical information, beneficiaries' Social Security numbers, and the state survey agency employees' identities 'would shed no additional light on the government's operations and activities that release of the overall survey investigation records does not provide.'"  "Non-disclosure of the information was therefore appropriate."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "Here, the defendant's declarant represents that 'a line by line review of all of the records involved [was conducted] and [that the defendant] released all reasonably segregable information.'"  "Upon reviewing the defendant's supporting declarations, the Court agrees that the agency has released all non-exempt portions of the responsive records."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated October 23, 2020