Ocasio v. DOJ, No. 13-921, 2014 WL 4954404 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2014) (Chutkan, J.)

Date: 
Friday, October 3, 2014

Ocasio v. DOJ, No. 13-921, 2014 WL 4954404 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2014) (Chutkan, J.)

Re: Request for OIG investigation file concerning complaint plaintiff filed with the FBI

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal:  The court holds that "despite its initial failure to timely respond, DOJ eventually performed multiple searches and located the file," and "DOJ's motion to dismiss with respect to the timeliness of DOJ's response is therefore granted."  The court explains that "[plaintiff] cannot properly challenge the timeliness of DOJ's response, as 'the FOIA does not create a cause of action for an agency's untimely response to a FOIA request.'"
     
  • Procedural Considerations, Searching for Responsive Records:  "The Court . . . finds that the search was adequate; the timeliness of DOJ's search does not render it inadequate given that the requested documents were eventually located."  The court explains that "even though the search was untimely, DOJ did eventually search the only database where responsive documents were likely to be found and used the detailed information provided in the FOIA request to guide its search."
     
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that "DOJ shall either redact from the documents withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C) information that would identify protected third parties and then provide [plaintiff] with those redacted documents, or provide a more detailed explanation, including a Vaughn index, as to why those documents are exempted in full and do not contain segregable information."  First, the court finds that "DOJ has clearly articulated a privacy interest sufficient to invoke Exemption 7(C)" because "[plaintiff] requested the file of an identified third party regarding an FBI investigation into allegations of wrongdoing."  However, the court also finds that it "cannot conclude that there is no public interest in the disclosure of the records."  The court then finds that "[e]ither DOJ has not adequately explained the categorical rule it used, or it did not rely on a categorical rule at all."  The court explains that it "cannot assess on the record before it whether DOJ actually engaged in a balancing test todetermine what portions of the file were exempt under 7(C)."  Additionally, "[e]ven if DOJ did engage in the balancing analysis, it has not provided the Court with enough information to determine whether the records were properly withheld because the privacy interests outweighed the public interest in disclosure."  The court explains that "DOJ . . . argues that because the requested file focuses on one individual, the entire file cannot be released."  "This is not enough to guide the Court regarding proper application of Exemption 7(C)."  "It is simply impossible for the Court to determine on the basis of the DOJ declarations whether there is any reasonably segregable portion of the record that could be disclosed."
     
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 7C
Litigation Considerations
Mootness
Procedural
Search
Updated January 29, 2015