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Williams v. DOJ, No. 23-00401, 2024 WL 2864223 (D.D.C. June 6, 2024) (Reyes, J.)


Williams v. DOJ, No. 23-00401, 2024 WL 2864223 (D.D.C. June 6, 2024) (Reyes, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff’s criminal case

Disposition:  Granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 6; Exemption 7, Threshold; Exemption 7(C):  “[T]he Court finds that USMS has justified its Glomar response under Exemption 7(C) in response to Part (1) of Plaintiff’s FOIA request . . . .”  The court relates that “USMS issued a Glomar response as to Part (1) of Plaintiff’s FOIA request, . . . which sought the names and identifying information of U.S. Marshals in Columbia, South Carolina, who allegedly coordinated with [two] NYPD Officers . . . around July to September 2018 in locating [a third party] . . . .”  “USMS justifies its Glomar response under Exemptions 6 and 7(C).”  First, the court finds that “USMS is a law enforcement agency within DOJ.”  “In [its] sworn declaration, [defendant] stated, based on personal knowledge, that the responsive records withheld under Exemption 7 were compiled for law enforcement purposes.”  “And ‘it is especially convincing’ that the requested information was compiled for law enforcement purposes ‘in this case because [Plaintiff] explicitly sought records related to his own criminal prosecution.’”  “Thus, the Court concludes that USMS met its threshold burden to establish that any responsive records were compiled for law enforcement purposes.” 

    Next, “[t]he Court finds that USMS has justified its Glomar response under Exemption 7(C).”  “USMS invoked the exemption to protect the identities of federal and local law enforcement officers within any responsive investigatory records that may exist.”  “[Defendant] states that acknowledgment of the requested information ‘could trigger hostility toward USMS personnel’ by inciting ‘[i]ndividuals targeted by investigations and related proceedings.’”  “Such individuals ‘could seek to harass or threaten USMS personnel based on the USMS’s employee[’s] participation in an investigation,’ and the same is true ‘for law enforcement officers from partnering law enforcement agencies.’”  “Further, acknowledging the existence of the requested information could ‘disrupt and impede official agency activity,’ hampering USMS’s ability to conduct its responsibilities.”  The court finds that “Plaintiff fails to establish a countervailing public interest justifying disclosure. “  “Plaintiff’s broad allegations do not explain how public disclosure here would ‘ensure that the Government’s activities be opened to the sharp eye of public scrutiny.’”  “Plaintiff has not submitted any countervailing evidence and instead relies on ‘allegedly suspicious circumstances [that] lack[ ] any substantiation,’ which does ‘not come close to meeting the demanding Favish standard for challenging the [Government’s] invocation of FOIA Exemption 7(C).’”  “Moreover, disclosure of the third-party information requested by Plaintiff is especially disfavored ‘when the requester asserts a public interest – however it might be styled – in obtaining information that relates to a criminal prosecution.’”  “Without more, Plaintiff has asserted ‘a generic public interest in the administration of justice,’ which cannot overcome the privacy interest of the third parties.”
  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  [T]he Court concludes that [defendant’s] declaration sets forth in reasonable detail, and in good faith, the type of information that USMS retains, how that information is organized, the divisions and databases that were searched in responding to Plaintiff’s FOIA request, the scope of the searches, and the specific search terms used.”  “Her declaration specifically describes why particular divisions, databases, and search terms were used and explains why no responsive records were found.”  “Thus, the Court finds that USMS has shown ‘in reasonable detail the scope and method of its search . . . to demonstrate [the] agency’s compliance with the FOIA,’ . . . and that those searches were reasonable under the circumstances . . . .”  “Plaintiff has not presented any argument, let alone ‘countervailing evidence’ to raise ‘substantial doubt’ about the adequacy of USMS’s searches.”  “Plaintiff’s bare allegations that USMS possesses the information sought, and that he is entitled to that information . . . cannot overcome the presumption of good faith given to USMS’s declaration.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Updated July 8, 2024