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Protect the Pub.’s Trust v. DHS, No. 22-138, 2022 WL 3226275 (D.D.C. Aug. 10, 2022) (Boasberg, J.)


Protect the Pub.’s Trust v. DHS, No. 22-138, 2022 WL 3226275 (D.D.C. Aug. 10, 2022) (Boasberg, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning National School Boards Association and use of federal resources to investigate threats against local school boards and officials

Disposition:  Granting plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment; denying defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  The court relates that “[plaintiff’s FOIA request] listed as recipients the Privacy Office, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (“CRCL”), and the United States Secret Service – all components of DHS.”  “While the Court will make no attempt to set forth a comprehensive definition of what constitutes ‘receipt’ in all cases, it believes that the circumstances here suffice.”  “To begin, it is undisputed that the Privacy Office did receive a copy of the original request as part of the referral of certain records from CRCL.”  “Second, the Office obtained the request not from some informal submission by Plaintiff, but as a referral from another DHS component.”  “Third, the request was actually addressed to the Privacy Office in addition to CRCL, which should have given the Office notice that Plaintiff wanted it, too, to search its records.”  “And if that were not enough to make [plaintiff’s] wishes clear, the organization repeatedly informed DHS that it believed that the Privacy Office was encompassed in its FOIA request.”  “This combination of facts entitles Plaintiff to a search of the Office’s records.”  “Defendant’s suggestion that its FOIA obligations were somehow not triggered because of the manner in which it received the request finds little support in the statute and accompanying regulations.”  “Although FOIA requires requests to be filed ‘in accordance with published rules stating . . . procedures to be followed,’ . . . there appears to be no violation here.”  “As DHS’s declarant states, ‘To make a request for DHS records, a requester should write directly to the FOIA office of the component that maintains the records being sought.’”  “‘A request will receive the quickest possible response if it is addressed to the FOIA office of the component that maintains the records sought.’”  “That encourages – but does not require – people to send their request to the correct office, and it contemplates that some will not do so.”  “Those requesters will get a slower response, but the regulations do not state that they should receive no response at all.”  “Another provision of DHS regulations instructs that when the Department’s component offices determine that they have received a request intended for another office, they ‘shall route the request to the FOIA office of the proper component(s).’”  “That, too, suggests that requests may not always come directly from the requester, and it implies that this is no reason to refuse compliance with the request altogether.”  “The Court, consequently, concludes that the DHS Privacy Office is obligated under FOIA to search its records for anything responsive to Plaintiff’s . . . FOIA request.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests
Updated September 6, 2022