Logan & Lowry, LLP v. Dep't of Interior, No. 14-429, 2016 WL 1169505 (N.D. Okla. Mar. 22, 2016) (Dowdell, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning investigation of two third parties
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's requests for attorney fees and costs
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: The court holds that the searches were reasonable. The court finds that "OIG's initial search did not locate any responsive documents relating to the referral of [two] issues." "However, after plaintiff's summary judgment response provided additional information suggesting that those issues might have been the subject of a referral to another agency, the OIG then completed a manual review of 118 referral case files, located a few documents, and promptly disclosed them to the plaintiff." "OIG has provided an affidavit with the search terms that were utilized in the initial search . . . and those terms were reasonably designed to capture any files that may have related to [the two issues]." "There is no genuine dispute as to whether the defendants have produced the records that were responsive to plaintiff's FOIA requests."
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: The court finds that "plaintiff has not shown that it substantially prevailed on its FOIA claim." Responding to plaintiff's argument that the Magistrate Judge "ordered the production of a Vaughn index of 20% of the records withheld and conducted a review of certain records[,]" the court finds that "a Vaughn index is simply 'an often-employed means for reviewing [an] agency decision,' . . . and there has not been any court order, enforceable written agreement, or decree that brought about any production."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: "Even if plaintiff had substantially prevailed and had thus shown eligibility for an award of fees and costs, the Court would find that plaintiff is not entitled to such an award under applicable law." Addressing each of the four factors in order, the court first explains that "[w]hile the plaintiff claims a public benefit, it does not explain how any alleged benefit was actually derived from the case." Second, the court finds that "[t]here is evidence that the plaintiff, a law firm, sought the documents in connection with a years-long legal battle involving one of its clients . . . from which the law firm has unquestionably obtained a commercial benefit." Third, "plaintiff has not described its own interest in the records sought, and the Court accordingly has no information on which to find that third factor in favor of the plaintiff." Fourth, "[t]he Court disagrees with plaintiff's assertion that the government's conduct was without reasonable basis in the law," because the Magistrate Judge "did not order the production of additional records, and he found that certain redactions were warranted, rather than contrary to the law."