McAtee v. DHS, No. 15-84, 2016 WL 3079693 (D. Mont. May 31, 2016) (Molloy, J.)

Date: 
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

McAtee v. DHS, No. 15-84, 2016 WL 3079693 (D. Mont. May 31, 2016) (Molloy, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal & Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  The court holds that, "[b]ecause [plaintiff] does not dispute that she has received a final response to her request and she does not allege a pattern or practice of untimely responses, her timeliness claim is moot."  The court explains that "[a]n untimely response is actionable in court but only in so far as the requester seeks the court's assistance in ordering the agency to complete its response or the requester claims that the agency has a pattern and practice of unreasonable delay in responding to FOIA requests."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that, "[b]ecause [plaintiff] raises no other challenges to the search and there are no indications in the record of agency bad faith, the search conducted by the Secret Service was reasonable."
     
  • Procedural Requirements, Consultations and Referrals:  The court holds that "[t]he referrals to the Executive Office do not constitute improper withholding."  The court finds that "[a] review of the pages referred shows that they are emails to or from the United States Attorney's Office as well as Secret Service Investigative Reports that contain details of the investigation and judicial actions taken in the case against [plaintiff]."  "The Secret Service informed [plaintiff] of both referrals, notified the Executive Office and forwarded the documents to that agency, and continued to inquire into the progress made on the referrals."  The court finds that "[a]side from the delay that the referral caused – now a moot issue – the Secret Service's referral procedure is in line with the recommended procedure for processing documents originating with other agencies."  However, the court finds that, "[b]ecause the propriety of the 29 withheld pages is not properly before the Court on the current motions, the parties shall file a joint stipulation addressing the status of and proposed resolution for those pages."
     
  • Exemption 3:  The court holds that "the Secret Service shall submit a supplemental Vaughn index with sufficient detail as to the pages withheld or redacted under Exemption 3."  The court explains that "the Vaughn Index does not provide any detailed information as to each withheld or redacted page."  "Instead, the Index repeats for every page the same statements that the page contains '[i]nformation regarding proceeding and investigation of grand jury.'"  The court finds that "[t]hese conclusory and boilerplate explanations are insufficient."
     
  • Exemptions 6 and 7(C):  The court finds that defendant's use of Exemptions 6 and 7(C) was proper.  The court first finds that "the privacy interest of individuals mentioned in law enforcement records is accorded great weight while the public interest in the disclosure of third-party identifying information is minimal as disclosure does not inform citizens about 'what their government is up to.'"  The court then finds that "[t]he requester's reason for seeking the information, however, is irrelevant to the Court's analysis . . . and private litigation is not a significant public interest warranting disclosure of private information."
     
  • Procedural Requirements, "Reasonably Segregable" Obligation:  "The Court is not yet in a position to make a segregability determination as to both the documents withheld by the Executive Office and the documents withheld and redacted under Exemption 3."  "As to the documents redacted under Exemptions 6 and 7(C), a review of the pages shows that all reasonably segregable portions were disclosed, and only those portions that are exempt – identifying information and not substantive information – [were] redacted."
Topic: 
Adequacy of Search
District Court
Exemption 3
Exemption 6
Exemption 7C
Exhaustion
Litigation Considerations
Mootness
Procedural
Segregability
Updated September 16, 2016