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Sarama v. DEA, No. 19-1116, 2023 WL 3763742 (M.D. Fla. June 1, 2023) (Klindt, Mag. J.)


Sarama v. DEA, No. 19-1116, 2023 WL 3763742 (M.D. Fla. June 1, 2023) (Klindt, Mag. J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff

Disposition:  Granting plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees and costs; directing parties to confer in good faith in attempt to resolve amount of fees and costs to be awarded; ordering plaintiff to file a supplemental motion regarding amount of fees and costs if no agreement is reached

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  “[T]he Court finds Plaintiff has substantially prevailed in this matter and as such, he is eligible for an award of fees and costs.”  The court finds that “it does appear Defendant made an effort to search for material responsive to [some portions of plaintiff’s request].”  “However, Defendant did not pass on whether the responsive information should be disclosed for the fifteen months prior to the filing of the lawsuit, even in light of having all of the information needed to do so at least a full year prior to the suit being filed.”  The court also finds that “[it] views this FOIA request as very narrow in scope.”  Additionally, “[t]he Court accepts and understands that the FOIA Unit experienced a significant FOIA backlog during the timeframe at issue, and that the Government was shut down for a relatively short part of it.”  “The Court finds, however, that Defendant’s unilateral election to label this very simple request as ‘complex’ sent it through a longer bureaucratic process that was unnecessary and unwarranted.”  “Given the unique circumstances of this case, the Court finds the lawsuit was the necessary impetus for disclosure; Plaintiff has substantially prevailed and is eligible for an award of fees and costs under the FOIA.”
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  “[C]onsidering the totality of the circumstances, including the purpose of the FOIA, an award of fees and costs is warranted.”  The court finds that “the first factor – public benefit from disclosure – weighs against Plaintiff given the nature of the underlying incident and the documents at issue.”  “Upon consideration of [the] second and third factors, they weigh slightly in favor of Plaintiff.”  “He was entitled to know this basic information he sought.”  “The timing of his claims does not suggest to the undersigned that he was using the FOIA improperly or as discovery, but rather to determine whether the agency had involvement in the accident.”  “Obviously, he had an interest in the information, but everyone making a FOIA request presumably has some interest in the information.”  “Plaintiff could not get basic questions answered without the FOIA process, and even through the FOIA process, responses were not forthcoming.”  “Finally, the fourth factor – the reasonable basis in law for withholding records – weighs in favor of Plaintiff for mostly the same reasons the Court has articulated in determining Plaintiff is eligible for a fee award.”  “Despite Defendant’s argument to the contrary, . . . it simply was not reasonable under the circumstances for Defendant to delay as long as it did in responding to a simple request of this nature.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated June 29, 2023