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Rollins v. Dep't of State, No. 13-1450, 2014 WL 5020009 (D.D.C. Oct. 8, 2014) (Boasberg, J.)


Rollins v. Dep't of State, No. 13-1450, 2014 WL 5020009 (D.D.C. Oct. 8, 2014) (Boasberg, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning death of plaintiff's son

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  "In light of the search that State conducted, which was reasonably calculated to locate all responsive records, the Court concludes that it fulfilled its obligation under FOIA."  Addressing plaintiff's arguments, the court finds that plaintiff's "only concern is that she did not receive a handful of records referenced in those produced."  "Yet she does not suggest that the disclosed documents provide any leads to other offices, databases, or files that should have been searched, or even to additional search terms or methods the agency should have used."  "There is also no evidence that State has non-public information that should have prompted it to search in additional locations, use additional search terms, or interview particular officials."  "Finally, [plaintiff] offers no evidence that the referenced documents still exist, and her suggestion to the contrary is purely speculative."
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege & Attorney-Client Privilege:  "On the basis of State's declarations and its own in camera review of the disputed documents, the Court concludes that the agency properly withheld the redacted portions under Exemption 5."  "All of the redacted e-mail exchanges clearly fall into one of two categories: 1) emails among agency personnel deliberating about the agency's authority to undertake certain actions and discussing what next steps to take in regard to [plaintiff's son's] death, and 2) e-mails among agency attorneys and staff made for the purpose of securing or providing legal advice about the agency's authority."
  • Exemption 6:  First, the court agrees with defendant that the information withheld is "not responsive to Plaintiff's request" because it concerns another death and "therefore, is not encompassed by Plaintiff's request, which sought only 'records that discuss or describe the circumstances of the death or the cause of death of [plaintiff's son]....'" The court finds that "[e]ven if that were not the case, the information", "the name of a third party on a cover memo that transmitted the reports of two deaths abroad", "is also properly withheld under Exemption 6."  "The information withheld in this case clearly satisfies the 'similar files' requirement."  Additionally, "[d]isclosing the third party's name here would also 'constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"  The name was of "a deceased individual", however, the court finds that release "could result in unwanted attention for or harassment of the individual's surviving family members."  The court holds "[t]hat balance here ultimately tips in favor of privacy" because "[t]here is . . . no public interest in disclosure."  "Plaintiff offers no evidence or argument that this individual died in mysterious circumstances or that disclosure of his or her identity would shed any light on the Department's performance of its statutory duties."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "The Court's in camera review has demonstrated that there are no meaningful redacted portions of the records that were segregable and should have been produced."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated January 26, 2022