Pinson v. DOJ, No. 12-1872, 2014 WL 4724379 (D.D.C. Sept. 24, 2014) (Contreras, J.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pinson v. DOJ, No. 12-1872, 2014 WL 4724379 (D.D.C. Sept. 24, 2014) (Contreras, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff, Criminal Division of DOJ, and third parties

Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment for first request at issue; granting defendant's motion for summary judgment for second request at issue

  • Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  The court holds that "[g]iven the factual disputes on this issue, the Court cannot grant summary judgment for the DOJ as to [one request] on the basis of failure to exhaust."  The court notes that "it is undisputed that [plaintiff] did not appeal the Criminal Division's response to his first FOIA request."  However, the court explains that "[u]ltimately, because at summary judgment the Court must view facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, . . . and cannot make credibility determinations, . . . the Court must accept as true [plaintiff's] declaration that he never received the DOJ's final response letter."  "And if it turns out that [plaintiff] never received the July 18 letter, he cannot 'be deemed to have exhausted his administrative remedies' because he was denied the opportunity to file a timely appeal."

    However, regarding another request, the court holds that "the DOJ attests that it has no record of receiving the letter, and [plaintiff] offers no evidence contradicting this claim."  The court explains that "[plaintiff] never alleges that the DOJ received the letter, but rather only that he put the letter in an envelope and gave it 'to [his] prison counselor . . . to mail out.'"
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "[T]the Court grants summary judgment for the DOJ as to [one] aspect of [plaintiff's request]."  The court notes that "DOJ's declaration in this case details which records the agency maintains, how the agency indexes the records, how the agency responds to FOIA requests, what search terms were used to locate documents that might be responsive to the request, and what documents the agency provided to [plaintiff] in response to the request."  "[Plaintiff], on the other hand, has produced no 'countervailing evidence' to create a genuine dispute as to the inadequacy of the agency's searches."

However, "[a] genuine dispute of material fact exists, however, as to whether the DOJ conducted an adequate search in response to the remaining aspect of [plaintiff's request]."  The court notes that "the Criminal Division never responded to this portion of the request, and the agency appears not to have run a search for any responsive records."  The court finds that "even if [plaintiff's] request failed to 'reasonably describe' the records sought, the DOJ should have informed him 'what additional information [wa]s needed or why [his] request [wa]s otherwise insufficient.'"

Adequacy of Search
District Court
Litigation Considerations
Updated January 29, 2015