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Magassa v. TSA, No. 19-01953, 2022 WL 971207 (D.D.C Mar. 31, 2022) (Sullivan, J.)


Magassa v. TSA, No. 19-01953, 2022 WL 971207 (D.D.C Mar. 31, 2022) (Sullivan, J.)

Re:  Request for records regarding plaintiff

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Administrative Appeals; Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  "TSA argues that [Plaintiff's] appeal 'did not challenge the agency's Glomar response, the adequacy of TSA's searches, or TSA's determinations that Plaintiff's requests of September 18, 2017, and October 13, 2017 . . . were not proper FOIA requests,' and therefore 'TSA has not had the opportunity to exercise its discretion and expertise on these matters.'"  "With respect to TSA's assertions as to the limitations of [plaintiff's] appeal, the Court is cognizant that [plaintiff's] administrative appeal stated that '[w]e further appeal the agency's lack of production in response to [plaintiff's] request overall.'"  "[Plaintiff] also asserted that TSA 'withheld numerous documents in its possession in their entirety and did not properly address those documents and their corresponding exemptions in order to justify withholding them altogether.'"  "The Court construes these statements as sufficiently broad to challenge the entirety of TSA's response."  "TSA provides no authority establishing that [plaintiff] must challenge each component of TSA's responses individually."  "The Court's conclusion is bolstered by TSA's September 5, 2018 letter stating that the letter constituted the Agency's final decision, and that [plaintiff] could seek judicial review."  "It is inconsistent for TSA to direct [plaintiff] to seek judicial review of his appeal, without clarifying he may further appeal other issues, and then assert before this Court that he has not exhausted his administrative remedies."
  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  "First, the Court is cognizant that the scope of TSA's search properly excluded records related to [plaintiff's] aviation worker credential."  "[Plaintiff] suggests that his October 13, 2017 FOIA request included records related to his aviation worker credential."  "However, none of [plaintiff's] three requests indicated that the nature of one of his contacts with TSA was as an individual holding a credential, or that any of the records he sought were related to his aviation worker credential."  "'[I]t is the requester's responsibility to frame requests with sufficient particularity.'"  "TSA therefore did not err in determining that records related to [plaintiff's] aviation worker credential were outside the scope of his request."  "[Plaintiff] may submit another FOIA request for his aviation worker credentials specifically, and indeed, he has already done so."
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "TSA explains through affidavits where it searched for records, why it searched there, who led the search process, why those specific individuals were chosen to lead the search process, and what the search process entailed."  "The Court concludes that TSA has established the reasonableness of its search by providing 'reasonably detailed, nonconclusory affidavits describing its efforts.'"
  • Exemption 3:  "The Supreme Court has stated that Section 114(r)(1) allows the TSA to deny FOIA requests and that the prohibitions set forth in Section 114(r)(1) 'currently override FOIA.'"  "With regard to the 182 pages withheld in full, TSA provided a detailed description of the withheld material."  "In summary, it consists of procedures and implementing guidance for screening persons and property, information used to determine whether [plaintiff] is on a watch list, and the sources of information by the Secure Flight Program."  "The description fits squarely within the scope of Section 114(r) because release of such procedures, implementing regulations, and the specified information would 'be detrimental to the security of transportation.'"  "Similarly, with regard to the redactions to the 22 pages withheld in part, TSA provided a detailed description of the withheld material."  "In summary, it consists of some of the same information withheld in the fully withheld documents plus additional internal guidance for responding to [plaintiff's] redress petition and internal analyses."  "Again, the description fits squarely within the scope of Section 114(r)."
  • Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations:  "TSA has employed a categorical approach to its redactions and withholdings."  "A categorical approach to redactions or withholdings is permissible under FOIA when 'the FOIA litigation process threatens to reveal "the very information the agency hopes to protect."'"  "Here, the two categories described in the [TSA] Declaration support the application of Exemption 3 for the reasons explained supra."  "Furthermore, the [TSA] Declaration attests that '[t]he redacted and withheld information cannot be described with more particularity than the descriptions provided [] without revealing SSI.'"  "This fits squarely within the permissible reasons for using a categorial approach."
  • Exemption 3, Glomar Response:  "TSA issued a Glomar response 'with respect to its searches of certain locations that principally contain information bearing on whether an individual's name appears on a watch list, and any potentially responsive documents that might have been returned by such searches.'"  "[T]he 'purported' documents TSA previously confirmed existed did not pertain to the subject of the Glomar response – specifically that TSA cannot confirm or deny whether [plaintiff] is on a watch list, but they pertain to [plaintiff's] aviation worker credential and are therefore outside the scope of the FOIA request at issue."  "The Court concludes that the TSA's Glomar response to plaintiff's FOIA request was entirely proper and squarely within the realm of its authority."
  • Exemption 6:  "TSA argues that its Exemption 6 withholdings of the names of individuals involved in processing Plaintiff's redress inquiry, and the name of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ("CBP") agent, are appropriate because 'the privacy interests in this information [are] substantial and, considering the sensitive work TSA redress employees and CBP officers conduct related to, respectively, inquiries by individuals who allege travel-related difficulties and seek removal from watchlists, and the enforcement of federal laws, that [sic] the release of such information—tied directly to TSA and CBP employees—could subject them to harassment and retaliation.'"  "Here, the Court agrees with TSA that there are privacy interests involved for the employees whose names have been withheld, particularly given the nature of the underlying material."  "Against this privacy interest, the Court is unable to identify any public interest in the disclosure of identifying information."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "With regard to the redactions to the 22 pages withheld in part and the 182 pages withheld in full pursuant to Exemption 3, the [TSA] Declaration attests that 'I have determined that all of the redacted information described above is in fact [security sensitive information].'"  "With regard to the 3 pages of documents withheld in part pursuant to Exemption 6 . . . '[t]hose redactions cover names of individuals that I have determined were properly redacted in whole, as release of any part of those names could result in the privacy harms identified above.'"  "Based on these explanations and [plaintiff's] failure to point to any quantum of evidence, the Court concludes that TSA has satisfied its segregability obligations."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 3
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Procedural Requirements, Administrative Appeals
Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests
Updated April 26, 2022