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Bigwood v. DOJ, No. 11-0602, 2015 WL 5675769 (D.D.C. Sept. 25, 2015) (Jackson, J.)

Date

Bigwood v. DOJ, No. 11-0602, 2015 WL 5675769 (D.D.C. Sept. 25, 2015) (Jackson, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning June 28, 2009, coup d’état in Honduras

Disposition: Adopting Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation; granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court "adopt[s] the Report and Recommendation in its entirety."  The Magistrate Judge found that the "searches were reasonable and sufficient under the law."  The Magistrate Judge explained that defendant "sets forth the methodology of the search process; details the agency’s rationale in identifying the specific subcomponents with potentially responsive records; indicates the types of searches performed, both electronic and manual; lists the various databases searched; and specifies the search terms used."  The Magistrate Judge additionally noted that defendant "also avers that . . . 'no other components of [Southcom] were likely to have information responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request.'"  Additionally, the Magistrate Judge rejected several of plaintiff's arguments.  The Magistrate Judge found that "a FOIA petitioner cannot dictate the search terms for his or her FOIA request" and "it certainly appears more than likely that the terms utilized would identify responsive documents."  The Magistrate Judge also found that "an agency's FOIA declaration need not provide 'information regarding the actual databases or indices searched'" and determined that he "cannot fathom how providing the names of search personnel would significantly inform the Court’s analysis of the adequacy of Southcom’s search."  Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that "[a]n agency’s 'failure to turn up a particular document, or mere speculation that as yet uncovered documents might exist,' . . . 'does not undermine the determination that the agency conducted an adequate search for the requested records.'"
  • Exemption 1:  The court "adopt[s] the Report and Recommendation in its entirety."  The Magistrate Judge found that "the government’s Vaughn index demonstrates that the withheld information falls into multiple categories listed in Section 1.4 of the Executive Order, i.e., the withheld information 'pertains to intelligence collections methods, human intelligence sources and the details of a particular foreign operation.'"  "Further, the government’s description of the withheld material is not contradicted by any 'contrary evidence in the record or by evidence of the agency’s bad faith.'"  Additionally, in response to plaintiff's "conten[tion] that Southcom failed to comply with the requirements of E.O. 13,526 Section 1.6, which states that when an agency deems certain information classified, it must, 'at the time of the original classification,' provide the 'identity, by name and position, or by personal identifier, of the original classification authority[,]'" the court finds that "[b]ecause the government’s declarations 'clearly indicate that the documents fit within the substantive standards of [the] Executive Order,' and remove 'any doubt that a person with original classification authority has approved the classification decision,' any procedural failure relating to an application of the Executive Order does ''not reflect adversely on the agency’s classification decision.''"
     
  • Exemption 7(E):  The court "adopt[s] the Report and Recommendation in its entirety."  The Magistrate Judge found that "Southcom easily satisfies the 'relatively low' Exemption 7(E) standard here."  The Magistrate Judge related that defendant withheld "Force Protection Conditions [which] are 'set by the various combatant commands ... and specif[y] the degree of measures that need to be taken in response to terrorist threats to military facilities.'"  The Magistrate Judge found that "disclosure of such information could be used by terrorists to thwart the Force Protection Conditions at SCO, thereby risking the very circumvention of the law that Exemption 7(E) was designed to prevent."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, Reasonably Segregable Requirement:  The court "adopt[s] the Report and Recommendation in its entirety."  The Magistrate Judge found that defendant "conducted a 'line-by-line review of [the] document and all reasonably segregable, non-exempt portions of [the] document [were] released.'"
     
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  The court "adopt[s] the Report and Recommendation in its entirety."  The Magistrate Judge found that, "[i]n this case, an in camera review is unwarranted."  "Southcom’s declarations and supplemental Vaughn index are more than adequate under this Circuit’s case law."  "Furthermore, there is nothing in the record suggestive of bad faith on Southcom’s part."  "If anything, Southcom cooperated considerably with plaintiff by conducting a second search in response to plaintiff’s concerns about the initial document production."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 1
Exemption 7(E)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated January 12, 2022