Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of State, No. 16-02368, 2018 WL 488718 (D.D.C. Jan. 19, 2018) (McFadden, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning determination that certain emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are not official State Department records
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: The court holds that "[t]he State Department's search was 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents' responsive to [plaintiff's] FOIA request." The court first finds that "the State Department appropriately interpreted the request to mean a determination either by its Office of the Legal Adviser or by OLC." "The State Department then appropriately crafted searches commensurate with the scope and nature of [plaintiff's] request." The court relates that defendant determined where to search "based on the details of the request and in consideration of the functions of its component offices." "For each of these offices, an employee with requisite knowledge of the FOIA request and the office's systems determined: (1) whether any of the office's systems were reasonably likely to contain responsive documents, and (2) which individuals within the office were reasonably likely to have responsive documents." "Searches tailored to the request, both in subject matter and date range, were conducted of the various sources of data identified as potentially containing responsive information[.]" The basis of the request at issue was an FBI interview conducted with an unnamed State Department employee, and the court finds that, "[a]lthough [plaintiff's] suggestion of simply asking the interviewee about the potential existence and location of the documents appears plausible on its face – indeed, likely much easier than the laborious efforts the State Department actually utilized – to do so would have placed the State Department in a quandary." The court explains that "the requisite declaration describing the efforts taken by the State Department would inevitably have either identified the interviewee or narrowed the list[.]" "FOIA does not require – and in fact expressly exempts – disclosure of the interviewee's identity . . . and this litigation should not be used as a back-door means of discerning the same." "Thus, the agency's search of the interviewee's documents, coupled with the other steps taken by the State Department in response to [plaintiff's] request, reflects a search methodology 'reasonably expected to produce the information requested.'" "The search efforts undertaken by the State Department appropriately balanced the rights of [plaintiff] to obtain information with the right of the interviewee to remain anonymous." "Nothing more is required."