Tracy v. DOJ, No. 15-655, 2016 WL 3248185 (D.D.C. June 10, 2016) (Moss, J.)

Date: 
Friday, June 10, 2016

Tracy v. DOJ, No. 15-655, 2016 WL 3248185 (D.D.C. June 10, 2016) (Moss, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff

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

  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  "[T]he Court concludes that the FBI conducted a reasonable and adequate search in response to [plaintiff's] request for his FBI file."  The court relates that "the FBI conducted searches in [the Universal Index] and Sentinel for both 'main' and 'cross-reference' records using two variants on [plaintiff's] name."  Responding to plaintiff's arguments, the court first finds that while "[t]he parties do not identify any caselaw that addresses whether it was reasonable for the FBI to have initially searched only for main files regarding [plaintiff], and the Court has found none[,]" "it is far from clear to the Court that most FOIA requesters intend the FBI to search only for 'main' files when they request their 'full FBI file.'"  "Nonetheless, there is no reason for the Court to consider the question in any greater depth here, because the FBI did ultimately produce other records that were cross-referenced to [plaintiff's] name."  Second, "the Court finds that the FBI's determination that the additional terms would not have produced additional results was a reasonable one under the circumstances."  The court relates that while "[n]ot all of the search terms [plaintiff] suggested were [that] far afield[,] [i]n particular, [plaintiff's] suggestion that the FBI search for his Social Security number, his date of birth, or the dates on which he visited the FBI’s Las Vegas office . . . agencies 'have discretion in crafting a list of search terms that "they believe[ ] to be reasonably tailored to uncover documents responsive to the FOIA request."'"  Finally, the court finds that "[t]o the extent that [plaintiff] is simply dissatisfied with the results of the FBI's search, his challenge to the FBI's search must fail."  The court explains that "'the adequacy of a FOIA search is generally determined not by the fruits of the search, but by the appropriateness of the methods used to carry out the search.'"  Additionally, the court explains that "FOIA does not require agencies to create records that do not exist, and it is not a tool for requesters to improve agencies' internal practices and procedures."
     
  • Exemptions 6 and 7(C):  "The Court concludes that the FBI's assertion of Exemption 7(C) was proper as to all three categories of information."  The court relates that "[it] will evaluate the FBI's decision to withhold portions of these records only under Exemption 7(C), because 'it provides broader privacy protection than Exemption 6.'"  The court finds that "it is clear that the FBI acted within the confines of FOIA in redacting the names of FBI employees and third parties in the records it released to [plaintiff]."  Regarding plaintiff's argument, the court finds that "even presuming the FBI withheld personal identifying information about any of the people that [plaintiff] believes threatened or extorted him, the D.C. Circuit has made clear that the privacy interests of such persons outweigh any interest [plaintiff] has in learning their identities."
     
  • Exemption 7(E):  "[T]he Court concludes that the FBI properly withheld information pursuant to Exemption 7(E)."  Regarding defendant's argument "that, armed with the FBI's internal website addresses, 'criminals capable of cyber attacks' would 'know where to go in the FBI's computer system to disrupt or undermine FBI counter-terrorism initiatives,' which in turn 'could result in an increase in violence, crime, or the destruction of property by terrorists[,]'" "[t]he Court agrees with the other judges on this Court to have considered the question that this possibility clears the 'low bar' established by Exemption 7(E)."
     
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "Whether or not [plaintiff] raises a segregability challenge, . . . , the Court has a duty to 'make specific findings of segregability regarding the documents to be withheld.'"  "The Court has no trouble concluding that the FBI complied with FOIA's segregability requirement."  "Here, the FBI redacted what was exempt and released the remainder of the records."  "FOIA requires no more."
Topic: 
District Court
Exemption 6
Exemption 7C
Exemption 7E
Litigation Considerations
Procedural
Search
Segregability
Updated October 6, 2016