Immigration Def. Project v. ICE, No. 14-6117, 2016 WL 5339542 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2016) (Oetken, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning ICE's enforcement and arrest operations at homes and residences
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for partial summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: The court holds that "FOIA does not give requesters the right to Monday-morning-quarterback the agency's search." The court finds that "[d]efendants have submitted four declarations and supplemental declarations detailing the search terms used and describing, in varying degrees of detail, why certain search terms were chosen by various components and field offices to produce records most responsive to Plaintiffs' request." "[T]hese declarations demonstrate a use of search terms and strategies on Defendants' part that was reasonably calculated to find responsive documents." Additionally, responding to plaintiff's arguments, the court finds that "the omission of certain search terms or keywords does not alone demonstrate that Defendants' search was inadequate" and "[d]efendants' use of varied search terms does not per se undermine the adequacy of the search, so long as Defendants offer an account of its search strategy in each location." However, the court does find that "[d]efendants fail to provide an explanation that would justify conducting searches using the plural form [of certain search terms] only" and, therefore, defendants "are directed to conduct a supplemental search for the singular form of the relevant term or terms."
Additionally, the court finds that "[p]laintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment that Defendants' search was inadequate based upon the discovery of [a report of investigation not uncovered in defendants' searches] is . . . denied." The court explains that "[c]ourts in this District have found, under similar circumstances, that '[t]he fact that two more responsive documents were located in an area that the [agency] determined would probably not lead to uncovering responsive documents does not render the [agency's] search inadequate.'" "This is because 'a reasonable search need not uncover every document extant.'"
Finally, the court rejects in part plaintiff's contention "that Defendants unreasonably failed to search several offices or components for potentially responsive records." The court finds that some offices "determined, under a fair reading of the FOIA request and based upon their knowledge of the office's practices and records, that a search was unlikely to yield responsive documents." "However, two offices . . . declined to conduct searches based on an overly narrow construction of Plaintiffs' request." Specifically, the court finds that, "[a]s part of an agency's obligation to 'construe [FOIA requests] liberally,' . . . the agency has 'no right to resist disclosure because the request fails reasonably to describe records unless it has first made a good faith attempt to assist the requester in satisfying that requirement[.]'"