Landmark Legal Found. v. DOJ, No. 15-1698, 2016 WL 5676706 (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2016) (Chutkan, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning public officials' use of private or alias email accounts to conduct government business
Disposition: Granting defendants' motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests: The court holds that, "[d]efendant contends, and the court agrees, that Plaintiff's request for '[r]ecords evincing the use of' personal email accounts and other electronic communication and social media platforms to conduct government business does not enable a professional DOJ employee to determine what records are being sought." "Plaintiff does not define 'evince,' nor explain how a record can 'evince' the use of personal email or social media accounts." "Plaintiff's request does not ask for specific records, but rather for any records that might suggest that other records exist." "While the object of Plaintiff's requests may be to determine whether Department of Justice employees are using personal email accounts to conduct government business, Plaintiff cannot force the Department to answer that question through a FOIA request."
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: The court holds that "[a] request for all the personal emails and other forms of communication by all employees within the three divisions named, along with other Department of Justice employees in leadership positions, is unreasonably burdensome." The court explains that, "[p]resuming for the moment that material that would constitute an agency record that is located within an agency employee's personal email or other communication account is subject to FOIA, the request would require employees to search through all of their communication accounts for anything referencing Department business, without so much as a specific topic by which to narrow the search."
- Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: "Given FOIA's administrative scheme favoring administrative appeal, the DOJ regulations requiring internal appeal, and the exhaustion principle that an agency must have the opportunity to review the claim before it is brought in federal court, the Plaintiff's failure to exhaust [the portion of its request for alias email accounts] in this particular case precludes this court's review." The court explains that "Civil Rights, having responded in a timely fashion, met its obligations, and Plaintiff was therefore required to administratively appeal," which it did not do.