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Schneider v. DOJ, No. 18-0474, 2019 WL 4737059 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2019) (Friedrich, J.)


Schneider v. DOJ, No. 18-0474, 2019 WL 4737059 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2019) (Friedrich, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning background investigation

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search & Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The court holds that "[t]he three [defendant] declarations establish that the FBI conducted reasonable searches that employed methods likely to produce records responsive to [plaintiff's] requests."  "The FBI ran multiple searches of its primary records system – the Central Records System – including for cross-reference records, which are excerpts of other main investigative files that mention a subject who is not the primary individual under investigation."  "The FBI used a three-way phonetic breakdown of [plaintiff's] name, date of birth, place of birth, and social security number."  The court finds that "[t]he FBI 'reasonably expected' that the Central Records System, the FBI's central database, was the system most likely to contain records responsive to [plaintiff's] request for investigative information about himself."  "The FBI's additional searches for cross-references further demonstrates the FBI's good faith attempts to uncover 'all relevant documents.'"  "And the FBI's use of search criteria that included [plaintiff's] personal identification information and multiple versions of his name was 'reasonably calculated' to produce documents relating to him."  The court also finds that "[t]o the extent [plaintiff] suggests that the FBI should have queried databases of other DOJ components, an agency component need not produce documents in the custody of another component."  Additionally, the court finds that "[plaintiff] also has not established that the disclosed records suggested a 'lead' that would obligate the FBI to conduct additional searches."  "[Plaintiff] speculates that additional documents about the investigation 'should exist,' . . . but conjecture alone does not meet the 'exacting standard' of a lead 'so apparent' that the FBI must conduct additional searches."
  • Exemption 7(E):  The court holds that "[t]he FBI properly invoked 7(E) to withhold its case file and sub-file numbers."  "The file numbers relate to 'a specific intelligence activity, source or method,' and releasing these numbers could reveal the 'priority given to such matters.'"  "Disclosure could also 'allow criminals to track who or what activities have been targeted for investigation.'"  "The government also properly invoked Exemption 7(E) to redact information relating to the results of [plaintiff's] name check that OPM referred to the FBI."  "As Hardy explains, the FBI categorically invokes Exemption 7(E) for every name check response to protect indications of potential investigative material."  "Disclosing name check results would risk exposing FBI procedures and techniques, such as how it collects and analyzes investigative information."  "Although the public is generally aware that agencies refer investigative matters to the FBI, and [plaintiff] himself is aware that the name check report mentioned him in connection with [the at issue] investigation, . . . neither is aware of the specifics of the name check system or the FBI's [at issue] investigation."  "Further, public awareness alone does not automatically make 7(E) inapplicable."
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  The court finds that "[t]he record also lacks any evidence of bad faith by the government."  "Accordingly, the Court denies [plaintiff's] request for in camera review."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7(E)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records
Updated December 16, 2021