Watters v. DOJ, No. 13-5121, 2014 WL 3893298 (10th Cir. Aug. 11, 2014) (Briscoe, C. J.)
Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff's federal drug-related convictions
Disposition: Affirming district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: The Tenth Circuit holds that plaintiff "did not exhaust his administrative remedies against the EOUSA." "First, [plaintiff] did not pay his administrative processing fees to the EOUSA." "Second, and perhaps more importantly, [plaintiff] failed to perfect a proper administrative appeal." "Under these circumstances, [the Tenth Circuit] decline[s] to review any claim against the EOUSA."
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: The Tenth Circuit "conclude[s that] the searches conducted here were adequate and reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." The Tenth Circuit relates that the FBI "search[ed] the indices of its Central Records System." The Tenth Circuit states that the Criminal Division "initially closed [the request] because [plaintiff] failed to provide information needed to process his request," but "[w]hen [plaintiff] submitted that information, the [Criminal Division] opened a new file" and "searched its central index of records, which [the Criminal Division] indicated was 'the most comprehensive system maintained by the Criminal Division.'" The Tenth Circuit relates that the ATF "submitted a declaration attesting that the ATF had received a referral of 16 documents from the FBI consisting of one page each" and also "declined to search for or release any third-party records . . . citing Exemption 7(C)." The court states that the IRS "submitted a declaration stating that [it] had received a 58–page referral from the EOUSA and a 12–page referral from the FBI" and that "[t]he IRS eventually released all of these materials to [plaintiff], and he did not independently request any other information." The Tenth Circuit "conclude[s], based on the forgoing declarations, that Defendants satisfied their burden to conduct reasonably adequate searches."
- Exemptions 6 and 7(C): The Tenth Circuit holds that "[d]efendants properly withheld the names and identifying information of law enforcement officers and other third parties under Exemptions 6 and 7(C)." The court finds that plaintiff "has provided no evidence of government wrongdoing," "fails to establish a public interest sufficient to overcome the significant privacy interest that third-parties have in preventing disclosure of investigative material," and "offers nothing to suggest that disclosure would contribute to the public's understanding of Defendants' activities; instead, he asserts his own personal interest in securing his release."
- Exemption 7(A): The Tenth Circuit holds that plaintiff's argument against withholding "is insufficient to establish that the undisclosed material was improperly withheld under Exemption 7(A)."
- Exemption 7(D): The Tenth Circuit holds "that 'the protections of 7(D) apply even if a confidential source is later revealed.'"