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Powell v. IRS, No. 18-2675, 2020 WL 3605774 (D.D.C. July 2, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)


Powell v. IRS, No. 18-2675, 2020 WL 3605774 (D.D.C. July 2, 2020) (Boasberg, J.)

Re:  Request for tax records concerning plaintiff

Disposition:  Granting defendant's partial motion to dismiss; granting in part and denying in part defendant's partial motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Mootness & Other Grounds for Dismissal:  First, the court agrees with "[d]efendant['s] conten[tion] that [plaintiff's] requests for (1) [two forms]; (2) [certain] transcripts . . .; and (3) [one form] were adjudicated in prior suits against the Government."  The court notes that "[t]he parties have already litigated this issue."  Additionally, the court holds that "[plaintiff's] attempt to present this evidence after a final opinion has been rendered on the same issue, however, is exactly the kind of 'piecemeal litigation' that collateral estoppel is meant to prohibit."

    Second, "[b]ecause Plaintiff concedes that the IRS provided him [certain requested] records for 1993, . . . the Court will dismiss that portion of Plaintiff's claim."
  • Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies:  The court holds that plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies regarding one request where, "[a]fter conducting a search that came up empty, the Service sent a response to Plaintiff . . . complying with FOIA's timeline."  "[Plaintiff], however, did not appeal this IRS response . . . ."  The court relates that "Plaintiff contends that Defendant has not provided sufficient evidence that it sent those responses to him, and that, in any event, he never received them."  "The Court can make quick work of these arguments."  "That is because, 'in FOIA cases, courts generally accord government records and official conduct a presumption of legitimacy.'"  "Here, the IRS has provided a detailed declaration from one of its specialists, who explained that she received these requests, searched for responsive documents, and responded by letter on specific dates."  "The Government also submitted copies of the letters sent to Plaintiff."  "[Plaintiff] cannot rely solely on bare assertions to create an issue of material fact."  However, regarding another request, the court finds that "the Service did not notify [plaintiff] of its decision within the mandated timeframe . . . ."  "Plaintiff, therefore, had satisfied the exhaustion requirement when he filed his Amended Complaint . . . ."
  • Litigation Considerations Adequacy of Search:  The court considers the different categories of records requested by plaintiff and ultimately finds that, except for one category, defendant conducted adequate searches because defendant's affidavits "explain the scope and method of its search 'in reasonable detail'" and "'set[ ] forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and aver[ ] that all files likely to contain responsive materials (if such records exist) were searched.'"  Responding to plaintiff's objections, the court finds that "[t]hat [plaintiff] successfully found . . . two pages based on a request to a different agency . . . does not move the needle here."  Additionally, regarding plaintiff's "conten[tion] that the Government should have identified the . . . specialist who actually searched [one] system, described in detail how that specialist performed the search, and explained how the specialist concluded that there were no records," the court finds that "FOIA does not require this level of detail."  Also, regarding plaintiff's belief that "that [defendant] should have looked at additional databases for these records," the court finds that "those databases would not reasonably have yielded any responsive records." 

    However, "[t]he Court is ultimately unconvinced that the Service has adequately searched for [one] document."  "In [its] Supplemental Declaration, [defendant] notes that, although an analyst 'personally do[es] not have access' to the Federal Records Center[, where these records are located], [defendant] can submit a request for documents stored there."  "To do so, [defendant] merely needs to provide a specific Document Locator Number."  "Yet nowhere does [defendant's employee] – the analyst who searched for the Form 5147 – tell the Court why he did not use the [Document Locator Number] that [plaintiff] provided him to make a request from the [Federal Records Center]."  "[Defendant] also did not aver that 'all files likely to contain responsive materials . . . were searched.'"  "The Court is, accordingly, unable to grant the Government summary judgment on this request."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Litigation Considerations, Mootness and Other Grounds for Dismissal
Updated July 31, 2020