Judicial Watch, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 17-02682, 2019 WL 1116899 (D.D.C. Mar. 11, 2019) (Cooper, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok's assignment to and from Mueller investigation
Disposition: Denying defendant's motion for summary judgment; granting plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: First, "[t]he Court declines to invalidate the search simply because it returned a seemingly small number of documents." The court relates that "[plaintiff] does point to specific documents that were not uncovered in the search, but the FBI adequately explains why that was so." The court finds that "[b]ecause [plaintiff] offers no reason to doubt the FBI's explanations for not locating those documents in the search, the presumption applies here." However, the court also finds that "the FBI's search was overly cramped." "Notwithstanding that [plaintiff's] request referred to Mueller by name, . . . the Bureau searched only for the term 'special counsel.'" The court finds that "[t]he FBI's failure to search for . . . obvious synonyms and logical variations ran afoul of its obligation to construe FOIA requests liberally and conduct a search reasonably likely to produce all responsive documents." Moreover, the court finds that "[w]hile the subject matter of the requested records was Strzok's assignments, the request specifically called for 'any and all' communications among FBI personnel regarding the assignments." "Because one would naturally expect others to have engaged in those communications, including without looping in Strzok, it was not reasonable (let alone eminently so) to search only Agent Strzok's emails." Finally, the court finds that, "[g]iven ["Agent Strzok's documented use of text messages"], it strikes the Court as reasonably likely that he discussed his assignment to the Special Counsel's Office in text messages – which again is the standard for assessing an agency's selection of search locations." Therefore, the court holds that the FBI needs to include text messages in the scope of its search.