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Prop. of the People, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 18-01202, 2021 WL 1209280 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2021) (Nichols, J.)


Prop. of the People, Inc. v. DOJ, No. 18-01202, 2021 WL 1209280 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2021) (Nichols, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning documentary film "'Cowspiracy,'" the term "'ag-gag,'" and certain pieces of legislation

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that "Defendants have failed to make [the required] showing here."  "Beginning with the search for the terms 'Cowspiracy' and 'ag-gag,' the FBI's search for those terms in the [Central Records System "CRS") indices was insufficient because there is no indication that film titles like 'Cowspiracy' or terms like 'ag-gag' would ever be indexed."  "Neither term is an 'individual,' 'organization,' or 'event' – the three categories by which FBI investigators 'may index information in the CRS.'"  "It also appears unlikely that the name of a documentary film or a term such as 'ag-gag' would have 'continuing significance to the FBI' such that an FBI employee would deem the term suitable for indexing – and Defendants certainly have not suggested that they would."  "Defendants have also failed to demonstrate that the FBI conducted an adequate search for the enumerated pieces of legislation."  The court notes that defendants "stat[ed] that 'FBI records are not indexed by cites to particular criminal codes, statutes, or legislative act titles.'"  "If that is the case, then surely an indexed search of the CRS for a legislative act title cannot be 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'"
  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  "The Court certainly cannot conclude, on the record before it, that it would be unduly burdensome for the FBI to have to do more than it already has."  The court explains that "Defendants have not produced any explanation, much less a detailed one, of the time and expense of the proposed searches."  "Instead, they rely solely on conclusory statements from their declarant, stating that full-text searches and searches of specific offices would be highly burdensome to the FBI."  "These statements, without more, are insufficient to relieve the FBI from its obligation to do more than search the CRS indices."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated April 28, 2021