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Stevens v. DHS, No. 14-3305, 2020 WL 1701882 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 8, 2020) (Leinenweber, J.)


Stevens v. DHS, No. 14-3305, 2020 WL 1701882 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 8, 2020) (Leinenweber, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning detainee volunteer work program

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

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that "ICE provided reasonably detailed declarations . . . that describe the search and demonstrate that it was performed reasonably and in good faith."  "Therefore, ICE has shown that there is no genuine issue of material fact about the search's adequacy."  The court finds that "the supplemental declaration explains ICE's general method of data collection and storage" and explains how it "exported [certain] files into Relativity, its e-discovery software program, and indexed, processed, and organized the files on that platform."  "Therefore, ICE sufficiently established that its chosen search method was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents."  Additionally, "the supplemental declaration identifies the terms searched and explains ICE's method of conducting that search."
  • Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege:  The court holds that "ICE adequately establishes that . . . four records fall within the attorney client privilege . . . ."  The court relates that "ICE asserts the attorney client privilege over portions of four documents that it alleges contain confidential communications between agency attorneys and other agency personnel about legal aspects of the detainee volunteer work program."  The court finds that "ICE's Vaughn index descriptions that the four redactions at issue cover communications between attorney and client that seek or provide legal advice."
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  The court holds that "three communications are protected by the deliberative process privilege."  First, regarding "'(1) agency responses to media or congressional inquiries; (2) an editorial that agency employees prepared in response to a New York Times article,'" the court finds that "ICE's internal communications about its responses to outside inquiries from the press, Congress, advocacy groups, and the public are not protected by the deliberative process privilege."  The court explains that "messaging communications are protected if they 'reflect[ ] the give-and-take of the consultative process' and were 'prepared to facilitate and inform a final decision or deliberative function entrusted to the agency.'"  "From the Vaughn index descriptions and a review of the reprocessed supplemental production, ICE merely deliberates over which agency subpart should handle an inquiry and/or how to spin its prior decisions about the detainee volunteer work program and general operation of ICE detention centers."  "Those communications do not qualify as facilitating/informing a final agency decision or performing a deliberative function specifically assigned to ICE."  Second, regarding discussions concerning "'a hunger strike and administrative segregation at an ICE detention facility in Tacoma, Washington,'" the court finds that "'messaging communications' portions of these two documents signal circumstances where ICE again rationalizes a finalized policy."  The court explains that these documents "merely reflect[] 'deliberations about what "message" should be delivered to the public about an already-decided policy decision' – what ICE should tell the ACLU about its administrative segregation policy as applied to detainees as the Tacoma Detention Center."  "Disclosure would not reveal the deliberative process behind a not-yet-finalized policy decision."  However, regarding "(1) a draft summary report regarding ICE's tracking process for detainees on hunger strike . . . ; (2) a draft to-do list created in response to concerns voiced 'by external stakeholders during a round table pertaining to an ICE detention facility' . . . and 3) an email discussion about ways to maintain detainee safety within a detention facility during an ongoing hunger strike," the court finds that these are all "predecisional and deliberative."
  • Exemption 6 & Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court holds that "ICE must disclose the redacted names of the other federal employees on the emails."  First, the court finds that "Exemption 6 does not permit ICE to withhold the redacted federal employee names."  The court finds that "many of [the at issue] 'emails include standard signature lines with the sender's name, position, department, and phone number.'"  "'Some of the emails include the email addresses of senders or recipients of the messages; some do not.'"  "Such communications are not like personnel or medical files."  Second, the court finds that ICE does not "link[] the documents to a specific investigation."  "Instead, the documents relate to 'the general execution of tasks by agency personnel.'"  "While the topics addressed in the documents pertain to law enforcement in a general sense, the documents are not investigatory."  "Thus, they were not 'compiled for law enforcement purposes.'"
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  The court holds that "ICE's Vaughn index and declaration, considered together, support a finding that ICE released all segregable information."  The court finds that "ICE's Vaughn index is sufficiently descriptive and comprehensive."  "It addresses each document and provides specific explanations – albeit some ultimately rejected as improper – for each redaction."  "In a declaration, ICE avers that it conducted a 'line-by-line' review of each responsive document."  "ICE also declares 'that all information not exempted from disclosure by FOIA . . . was correctly segregated where possible and released to [plaintiff].'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated November 10, 2021