Protect Democracy Project, Inc. v. DOE, No. 17-779, 2018 WL 4440534 (D.D.C. Sept. 17, 2018) (Kelly, J.)
Re: Request for records relating to discussions between the Presidential Transition Team and DOE staff
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's and defendant's motions for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: The court notes that, "[i]t appears that DOE initially misconstrued the scope of the first request." "DOE largely limited its search to external communications between DOE staff and the transition team, including (at most) only a small subset of internal DOE communications." The court finds, "[t]hat was a mistake." "The government is required 'to construe a FOIA request liberally.'" "DOE objects that it should not be required 'to search the records of every employee in the entire Department.'" "The [c]ourt agrees such a search would be unreasonable, but plaintiff is not asking for that." "It argues instead that DOE could (and should) have identified additional custodians likely to have responsive records." "Therefore, the [c]ourt will order DOE to conduct an additional search that encompasses the files of additional custodians."
"The [c]ourt is less convinced by plaintiff's argument that DOE's search terms are too limited." "In general, courts should not 'micro manage' how agencies respond to FOIA requests." The court notes that, "DOE applied three search terms . . . [and that] these terms 'correspond to the scope of the request.'" "Moreover, DOE objects that the proposed terms are likely to find an excessively large number of unresponsive documents."