Wright v. Admin. for Children and Families, No. 15-218, 2016 WL 5922293 (D.D.C. Oct. 11, 2016) (Howell, C. J.)
Re: Request for records concerning "unaccompanied alien children" and "government's shelter program"
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment
- Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records: "[T]he Court finds that the agency's search for responsive records was adequate." The court holds that defendant "identified the files they deemed most likely to contain responsive documents, if any existed, and searched those files using parameters derived from the plaintiff's request." The court finds that "HHS was not required to perform the more exhaustive search the plaintiff apparently demands." "On the contrary, an agency is only required to search record systems 'likely' to yield responsive documents." Similarly, the court finds that "an agency's failure to take every step desired by a requester does not automatically render the search not 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" The court finds that "plaintiff has not pointed to any 'positive indications of overlooked materials,' nor has he shown that the 'agency has reason to know that certain places [not searched] may contain' additional documents responsive[.]" Finally, the court finds that "plaintiff's purely speculative contentions [that there is "a 'substantial likelihood that personal [e-mail] accounts were used to evade public scrutiny in this case,'"] cannot render the agency's search inadequate." The court explains that "the presumption applies that agency employees comply with applicable law and, consequently, that agency records responsive to a FOIA request would unlikely be located solely in their personal email accounts, rendering a search of those accounts unnecessary." "While Competitive Enterprises [v. Office of Science & Technology Policy, 827 F.3d 145 (D.C. Cir. 2016)] suggests that this presumption may be rebutted by, e.g., evidence 'from a Vaughn Index in another, earlier FOIA litigation that the [agency employee's private email] address had apparently been used for some work-related correspondence,' . . . the plaintiff has pointed to no such evidence in this case."
- Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declaration; Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege; Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements: "The Court is satisfied that HHS has 'provide[d] in its declaration and Vaughn index precisely tailored explanations for each withheld record at issue,' . . . and that those explanations adequately display the predecisional and deliberative nature of each of the documents described therein." The court finds that defendant's "Vaughn index reflects these assertions and provides additional detail regarding the authors, recipients, and contents of each redacted intra-agency email." "Finally, [defendant's] FOIA Officer's declaration attests to personal review of all records in this case, and her belief that 'all reasonably segregable, non-exempt information has been released.'"
- Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection: The court holds that "in camera review of the withheld information in this case is not warranted." The court explains that "no reason has been presented by the plaintiff or the procedural history of this case to cast any doubt on the agency's descriptions of withheld information." Also, "the Court concludes that the government misconduct exception . . . cannot overcome an otherwise valid withholding pursuant to Exemption 5."