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Pulliam v. EPA, No. 15-1405, 2017 WL 659358 (D.D.C. Feb. 16, 2017) (Jackson, J.)


Pulliam v. EPA, No. 15-1405, 2017 WL 659358 (D.D.C. Feb. 16, 2017) (Jackson, J.)


Re: Request for records concerning investigation into toxic contamination occurring at former Army base


Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: First, regarding DOD's search, "[s]ince the Court concludes that DOD's interpretation of the request was not reasonable and that the declaration does not describe an adequate search, summary judgment in favor of DOD as to the adequacy of its search is inappropriate." The court finds that, "[w]hile the search undertaken . . . was necessary and productive, it was incomplete since it covered electronic mail only." The court relates that "[p]laintiff's request, and DOD's own recitation of the request in its final decision letter, included all correspondence 'whether in electronic or handwritten format, including but not limited to electronic mail, memorandums, or other documents.'" The court relates that "[d]efendants argue now that the use of [certain] terms . . . strongly indicates that plaintiff only sought email communications." "But [the court finds that] '[t]he agency [is] bound to read [the request] as drafted, not as [ ] agency officials . . . might wish it was drafted.'"

    Second, regarding EPA's search, the court finds that "[a]lthough [defendant's] declaration does contain descriptive information about the various searches conducted within the Office of Investigations and OIG Immediate Office, and it explains why the request was assigned to those offices, it omits certain information that would enable the Court to conclude that EPA's search was adequate." Specifically, the court finds that defendant does not "explain[] why [the locations searched] were the only locations searched and [does not] stat[e] that 'no other record system was likely to produce responsive documents.'" Moreover, the court finds that "the declaration provides no explanation as to why a search of [the systems searched] would satisfy plaintiff's request to search for 'all documentation related to' the complaint filed." Additionally, the court finds that "the description of [certain] search[es] . . . 'where records of this type for the time period of the request . . . would be stored' is too cursory to persuade the Court that the search[es] [were] adequate."

    Third, regarding DOJ's search, the court finds that, "[a]lthough [defendant's] declaration does provide the search terms . . . used, as well as a brief description of the database . . . searched, the declaration does not 'explain the scope and method of the agency's search in a non-conclusory fashion.'" "Rather, all [defendant] claims is that [it] 'searched the OIG's investigative records database using the names,' . . . without explaining with 'reasonable detail' how [it] utilized the search terms – for example, using a keyword search or some other method – or why [it] chose to limit the search to one database." "And even though [defendant] claims that 'IDMS is the only database that would contain the necessary information responsive to plaintiff's request and it is the only database that would contain responsive documents,' . . . such a conclusory statement is insufficient." "'At the very least, [DOJ] was required to explain in its affidavit that no other record system was likely to produce responsive documents.'" "Moreover, the search terms [defendant] used in and of themselves raise doubt with the Court that [it] performed an adequate search, and [defendant's] conclusory assertion that [it] 'conduct[ed] a thorough search,' . . . 'does not provide sufficient detail for the [C]ourt itself to determine the search's adequacy.'"
  • Exemption 6: The court notes that "[p]laintiff does not raise any issue with respect to the redactions or the agency's compliance with its obligations[]" and finds that "[b]ecause there is nothing in the record to indicate that DOD's redactions were inappropriate, the Court will accept [defendant's] assertions and find that DOD released all reasonably segregable information." The court relates that "DOD assert[ed] that Exemption 6 justifies its redaction of the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of junior personnel from the produced documents."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Updated December 10, 2021