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James Madison Project v. Dep't of State, No. 15-1478, 2017 WL 398325 (D.D.C. Jan. 30, 2017) (Jackson, J.)


James Madison Project v. Dep't of State, No. 15-1478, 2017 WL 398325 (D.D.C. Jan. 30, 2017) (Jackson, J.)


Re: Request for records concerning revelations that private attorney of former Secretary of State had retained personal control over thumb drive containing e-mails which could be deemed to contain classified information


Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search & Discovery: "[T]he Court will remand the matter to the agency to conduct renewed searches[.]" The court explains that "the problem with the declaration in this case is that it is conclusory, and the searches are deficient because the agency – for no discernable reason – searched different data sets using different search terms and different date restrictions, even within the same bureau or office." "So the agency must do more to explain its methodology, and it must explain its reasoning more clearly." "And it must solve the glaring date restriction issue" where "several of the searches were limited to 2015" despite a larger time frame being requested. The court notes that "[t]he agency protests that it should not be required to provide 'additional declarations from each of the numerous State employees across all of the offices and bureaus searched.'" The court finds that "[t]he agency is correct that, in a FOIA case, 'the affidavit of the officer ultimately responsible for the supervision of the FOIA search is sufficient.'" "But the agency official responsible for coordinating the supervision of the FOIA search would be wise to ensure on remand that the search terms are more uniform, and that it is clear from the declaration that the terms are reasonably calculated to uncover relevant documents." Additionally, the court finds that, "[s]ince the Court agrees that the declaration is inadequate and the matter will be remanded to the agency, the Court need not take up the request for discovery at this time." "Discovery is generally inappropriate in a FOIA case in any event."
  • Exemption 7(C): "[T]he Court concludes that any public interest in the name of the particular State Department official who initially recommended that [the private attorney of the former Secretary of State] be provided with the safe is outweighed by the employee's interest in personal privacy." The court finds that "[w]hatever conclusions plaintiffs wish to draw from the State Department's actions in this case, plaintiffs have not established that the disclosure of the employee's name is a matter of significant public interest." The court finds that "while plaintiffs speculate that the Division Chief may have had 'political connections' to Secretary Clinton . . . that speculation does not 'establish more than a bare suspicion . . . [of] government impropriety,' which is insufficient to establish a public interest." Regarding the privacy interest at issue, the court notes that "[t]he Division Chief in this case appears to be a mid-level career employee at the State Department – he is neither a political appointee nor a senior executive." "[T]he Court finds that any public interest in the name of a mid-level manager at the State Department is outweighed by the employee's interest in privacy, especially where his recommendation was ratified by more senior managers whose names have been made public."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7(C)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Discovery
Updated December 9, 2021