Schoeffler v. Dep't of Agric., No. 17-00055, 2018 WL 1182555 (D. Ariz. Mar. 7, 2018) (Snow, J.)
Re: Requests for records concerning plaintiff as well as concerning nineteen firefighters who perished while working to fight Yarnell Hill Fire near Yarnell, Arizona
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration: In response to plaintiff's objections, the court holds that "the government affidavits were submitted by . . . individuals who are knowledgeable and who have access to the information in agency files." "The affidavits detail the process followed by the USFS to search for the information [plaintiff] requested." "The affidavits are proper and may be considered by the Court."
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: The court holds that "USDA completed an adequate search for records [concerning the nineteen firefighters who perished]." USDA instructed the agency [which would have these records] to search for the records requested by [plaintiff]." "[Plaintiff] failed to raise a sufficient dispute of facts to justify additional discovery." "With regards to records about [plaintiff], however, [the court finds that] there are questions of fact about whether the USDA completed an adequate search." "[Plaintiff] identified a specific custodian of records as requested by USDA, enabling USDA to run a more thorough search." "USDA did not run this search." "USDA also did not search for records from the additional agencies and date ranges requested by [plaintiff] in his addendums and clarifications." The court finds that "[t]here are questions of fact as to whether the USDA conducted an adequate search, and the USDA is therefore not entitled to summary judgment for [that portion of the request]."
- Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: The court holds that, "[b]ecause actual exhaustion is required and [plaintiff] did not do so [regarding one request], the Court grants summary judgment as to [that] request[.]" The court relates that "[a]lthough the USDA responded past the FOIA deadlines, [plaintiff] received a response before he filed this lawsuit." The court finds that "[o]nce the agency responds, even if late, 'the requester can seek judicial review only after he has unsuccessfully appealed to the head of the agency as to any denial.'"