Liberation Newspaper v. Dept. of State, No. 13-836, 2015 WL 709197 (D.D.C. Feb. 19, 2015) (Howell, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning possible payments made to journalists by United States government during course of criminal prosecution of five individuals convicted of being Cuban intelligence agents
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Considerations, Searching for Responsive Records: The court holds that "defendant conducted an adequate search for responsive records." "The Court is satisfied, based on the three separate and detailed declarations submitted by the defendant, that the defendant conducted an adequate search for responsive records, even though the search yielded no responsive documents and even though the plaintiff uncovered a seemingly responsive document during its independent search of public websites." "The defendant reviewed both hard copy and electronic documents contained in numerous databases across multiple divisions within the State Department." "Beyond the requirements placed upon the defendant, the defendant responded to criticism from the plaintiff and revised its search parameters to provide an even broader search for responsive documents." "Although the plaintiff has pointed to a single document discovered outside of the search process, one such document is not 'sufficient to overcome an adequate agency affidavit,' let alone the three declarations submitted in the present case." "Moreover, the plaintiff points to no circumstances regarding the search sufficient to overcome the presumption of good faith afforded to the defendant's declarations." Additionally, the court finds that plaintiff's "challenge to the adequacy of the search–the lack of detail concerning the search of USIA's retired records–is without merit." "The defendant's declarations explain in detail the process used to review the retired USIA records." Finally, the court holds that while "plaintiff posits that the defendant should have used alternative search terms to yield more responsive documents[,] . . . speculation as to the potential results of a different search does not necessarily undermine the adequacy of the agency's actual search." The court explains that "[w]here the search terms are reasonably calculated to lead to responsive documents, the Court should not 'micro manage' the agency's search." The court finds that "[t]he search terms in the instant case were reasonably calculated to lead to responsive documents."