Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Mass. v. Federal Bureau Of Investigation

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 17, 2016

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION OF MASSACHUSETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION and CARMEN ORTIZ, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This action concerns two identical Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests that Plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts (“ACLUM”) sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (“USAO”). These FOIA requests asked for materials regarding: (A) the structure of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (“JTTF”) that operates in Massachusetts (“Request A”); (B) the number and types of investigations conducted by the FBI Boston Field Office since 2011 (“Request B”); and (C) the Massachusetts JTTF’s involvement with Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed in Florida while reportedly being questioned about a September 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Mass. and the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings (“Request C”).

         There are currently three pending summary judgment motions concerning the FBI and USAO’s responses to Requests A and B.[1] The FBI has moved for summary judgment as to its search for and release of documents responsive to these two requests. [ECF No. 51]. The ACLUM has cross-moved for summary judgment against the FBI, objecting to the FBI’s nondisclosure of certain materials. [ECF No. 60]. The ACLUM has also moved for summary judgment against the USAO. [ECF No. 56]. The USAO has not searched for or released any documents responsive to Requests A and B, and the ACLUM’s motion asks that the Court order it to do so.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the FBI performed a reasonable, adequate search for records responsive to Requests A and B, and that with the exception of its nondisclosure of certain materials under FOIA Exemption 7(E), as more fully set forth herein, it properly withheld information under FOIA’s exemptions. The Court finds, however, that the ACLUM is entitled to summary judgment with respect to the USAO and orders the USAO to conduct a reasonable search for records responsive to Requests A and B.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On December 9, 2013, the ACLUM sent identical FOIA requests to the USAO and FBI requesting records regarding the Massachusetts JTTF. [ECF Nos. 1-1, 1-2]. The letter asked for “information about how the Massachusetts JTTF functions, how its authority is divided and shared, what safeguards are in place to ensure the civil liberties of those whom it targets, and the number and type of investigations conducted out of Massachusetts.” Id. at 2. It also asked for “specific information about the Massachusetts JTTF’s involvement in the investigation into and death of a suspect, Ibragim Todashev.” Id. The letter was divided into three sections.

         Request A, regarding the structure of the Massachusetts JTTF, had seven subparts. It asked for, among other things, records indicating the purpose of the Massachusetts JTTF; its organization; its relationship with the FBI, USAO, and other agencies; and its size and budget. Id. at 2-3. Request B, regarding the FBI Boston Field Office’s Investigations, had two subparts. It asked for information regarding the number of assessments, preliminary investigations, and full investigations conducted by the FBI Boston Field Office since 2011. Id. at 3. Request C, regarding the investigation of Ibragim Todashev, also had two subparts. It requested all documents relating to Todashev, including documents describing any involvement of the Massachusetts JTTF in his death. Id. at 4.

         The letter requested expedited processing and a fee waiver. The ACLUM stated that there was “an urgent need to inform the public about the workings of the Massachusetts JTTF, an issue that has been of widespread and exceptional media and public interest . . . .” Id.

         The ACLUM filed the Complaint in this action on April 10, 2014, naming both the FBI and Carmen Ortiz as defendants. [ECF No. 1]. The ACLUM alleged that it had not yet received any documents from either the FBI or USAO in response to its FOIA requests. Id. ¶ 11. As of the time of the filing, the USAO had not responded to the FOIA request at all. The FBI had acknowledged receipt of the request and begun to process it, but had not yet produced any documents, and was refusing to release any documents responsive to Request C. Id. ¶¶ 40-45. The Complaint brought eight counts: failure to make reasonable effort to search for records sought by the requests (Count I, against both defendants); failure to promptly make records available (Count II, against both defendants); failure to process requests as soon as practicable (Count III, against both defendants); failure to grant a fee waiver (Count IV, against both defendants); failure to grant limitation of fees (Count V, against both defendants); failure to estimate volume of records denied (Count VI, against the FBI only); failure to provide responsive documents (Count VII, against both defendants); and an appeal of the FBI’s denial of Request C (Count VIII, against the FBI only).

         On July 21, 2014, the parties agreed on a schedule for the search and production of documents responsive to the ACLUM’s FOIA requests. [ECF No. 25]. The FBI stated that it expected to complete its search for documents responsive to all three portions of the request by July 31, 2014, and agreed to produce its first interim response by September 2, 2014. Id. The USAO also agreed to provide its first interim response, consisting of emails responsive to all three portions of Plaintiff’s FOIA request, by September 2, 2014. Id.

         The FBI processed a total of 1, 849 pages responsive to Requests A and B. [ECF No. 53 ¶ 4]. Of these pages, 903 were released in full, 162 were released in part, and 784 were withheld in full. Id. The USAO did not search for or produce any documents responsive to Requests A and B, claiming that a search would be unduly burdensome and unnecessary, since any records in its possession, responsive to Requests A and B, are duplicative of records that the FBI has already processed and released.

         On July 24, 2015, the FBI moved for summary judgment with respect to Requests A and B. [ECF No. 51]. It filed a declaration from David Hardy, the Section Chief of the Records/Information Dissemination Section (the “Hardy Declaration”), that described the FBI’s processing of the two requests [ECF No. 53], and asked that the Court find as a matter of law that it has fully discharged its obligations under FOIA. On August 24, 2015, the ACLUM simultaneously opposed the FBI’s motion and cross-moved for summary judgment against the FBI [ECF No. 60], based on its contention that the FBI improperly used FOIA Exemption 7(E) to withhold various materials. On that same day, the ACLUM also moved for summary judgment against the USAO, requesting that the Court order the USAO to perform a reasonable search for documents responsive to Requests A and B. [ECF No. 56]. The Court held oral argument on these three motions on January 28, 2016. [ECF No. 76].

         II. Legal Standard

         Congress enacted FOIA to “pierce the veil of administrate secrecy and to open agency action in the light of public scrutiny.” Dep’t of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361 (1976) (internal quotations omitted). “The statute embodies a broad policy in favor of disclosure, reflecting the notion that ‘promot[ing] an informed citizenry . . . is vital to democracy.’” Moffat v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 716 F.3d 244, 250 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Carpenter v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 470 F.3d 434, 437 (1st Cir. 2006)). FOIA acts as an “important tool in holding the government accountable because it provides citizens a means to ‘know what the government is up to.’” Stalcup v. C.I.A., 768 F.3d 65, 69 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Carpenter, 470 F.3d at 437).

         Under FOIA, agencies must disclose all requested records unless one of nine statutory exemptions applies. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). These nine exemptions are “explicitly made exclusive and must be narrowly construed.” Milner v. U.S. Dep’t of Navy, 562 U.S. 562, 565 (2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The exemptions are intended to “effectuate the goals of the FOIA while safeguarding the efficient administration of the government, ” Carpenter, 470 F.3d at 438, and should “not obscure the basic policy that disclosure, not secrecy, is the dominant objective of the Act.” Rose, 425 U.S. at 361. The government bears the burden of proving that withheld materials fall within one of the enumerated exemptions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B).

         In response to a FOIA request, an agency must make “a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.” Oleskey ex rel Boumediene v. U.S. Dep’t of Defense, 658 F.Supp.2d 288, 294 (D. Mass. 2009) (quotation marks omitted). The government bears the burden of showing that it conducted an adequate search. Moffat, 716 F.3d at 254. The adequacy of a search is “determined not by whether relevant documents might exist, but whether the agency’s search was reasonably calculated to discover the requested documents.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). To show that it conducted an adequate search, an agency “may rely upon affidavits provided they are relatively detailed and nonconclusory, and are submitted by responsible agency officials in good faith.” Maynard v. C.I.A., 986 F.2d 547, 599 (1st Cir. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.