Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 15-690, 2016 WL 1367731 (D.D.C. Apr. 6, 2016) (Collyer, J.)

Date: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 15-690, 2016 WL 1367731 (D.D.C. Apr. 6, 2016) (Collyer, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning number and names of employees who used email addresses other than assigned "state.gov" email addresses to conduct official State Department business

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  The court finds that "[p]laintiff’s FOIA request was actually a question posed as a request for records."  "The request for 'records that identify the number and names of all current and former' State Department officials 'who used email addresses other than their assigned "state.gov" email addresses to conduct official State Department business' is really a question that asks 'who at the State Department used private email for conducting official business?'"  "A question is not a request for records under FOIA and an agency has no duty to answer a question posed as a FOIA request."
     
  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  First, the court relates that "[p]laintiff complains that the State Department's interpretation of its request was unduly restrictive, and that it did not expect a search to reveal a single document listing the names of all State officials who used private email for official business."  "Instead, Plaintiff insists that the State Department should have construed the FOIA request more broadly."  However, the court finds that "an agency is required to read a FOIA request as drafted, 'not as either the agency or [the requester] might wish it was drafted[,]'" that "it was Plaintiff's responsibility to frame its own FOIA request with sufficient particularity, . . . and [that] Plaintiff cannot now complain that it was looking for records that it did not describe."  Moreover, "'FOIA was not intended to reduce government agencies to full-time investigators on behalf of requesters.'"

Second, the court finds that "[p]laintiff's speculation that responsive records may exist does not undermine the reasonableness of the search."  Moreover, the court finds that the records which plaintiff's point to as proof that other responsive records exist "are not responsive to the FOIA request as written."  The court relates that "[w]ithout citing any supporting authority, Plaintiff also faults the [defendant's] Declaration for failing to indicate how many 'hits' resulted from the search of records, i.e., how many documents were located that contained the search terms but were not responsive to the FOIA request."  In response, the court holds:  "FOIA requires that an agency search for and produce responsive records; an agency is not required to produce non-responsive records."

Topic: 
District Court
Procedural
Search
Updated May 31, 2016