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Davis v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 14, 2014

COREY DAVIS, Plaintiff,


ALLYNE R. ROSS, District Judge.

Corey Davis ("plaintiff" or "Davis"), acting pro se, filed this lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") seeking documents from defendant federal agencies. Defendants previously moved for summary judgment. By order dated June 27, 2013, the court granted the motion with respect to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and granted it in part and denied it in part, without prejudice, with respect to the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") and Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP").[1] TSA and BOP have now renewed their motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff has failed to oppose their motion despite generous extensions from the court. For the reasons set forth below, TSA's motion is granted, and BOP's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

For purposes of this opinion, the court presumes the parties' familiarity with the facts and procedural history as set forth in this court's prior orders and in defendants' Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts, which the court treats as undisputed. See Remaining Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs. Facts"), Dkt. #102, Ex. 1.


I. Summary Judgment Standard

The court must grant defendants' motion for summary judgment if they have shown "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Here, the facts are undisputed. As the court warned plaintiff when granting his extension requests, if a party "fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, " the court may "consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion, " as the court finds appropriate here, and "grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

In the context of FOIA, "the defending agency has the burden of showing that its search was adequate and that any withheld documents fall within an exemption to the FOIA." Carney v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 812 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)); accord Rabin v. U.S. Dep't of State, 980 F.Supp. 116, 120 (E.D.N.Y. 1997). "The agency is not expected to take extraordinary measures to find the requested records, but only to conduct a search reasonably designed to identify and locate responsive documents." Garcia v. Dep't of Justice, Office of Info. & Privacy, 181 F.Supp.2d 356, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Jones-Edwards v. Appeal Bd. of Nat'l Sec. Agency Cent. Sec. Agency, 352 F.Supp.2d 420, 422 (S.D.N.Y. 2005); see also Meeropol v. Meese, 790 F.2d 942, 956 (D.C. Cir. 1986) ("[A] search need not be perfect, only adequate, and adequacy is measured by the reasonableness of the effort in light of the specific request.").

"Affidavits or declarations supplying facts indicating that the agency has conducted a thorough search and giving reasonably detailed explanations why any withheld documents fall within an exemption are sufficient to sustain the agency's burden." Carney, 19 F.3d at 812 (footnote omitted). Such affidavits must be "relatively detailed and non-conclusory" and are "accorded a presumption of good faith." Safecard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Carney, 19 F.3d at 812. "This means, for instance, that an agency affidavit or declaration must describe in reasonable detail the scope of the search and the search terms or methods employed." Serv. Women's Action Network v. Dep't of Def., 888 F.Supp.2d 231, 241 (D. Conn. 2012). "[T]he affidavits should identify the searched files and describe at least generally the structure of the agency's file system' which renders any further search unlikely to disclose additional relevant information." Katzman v. CIA, 903 F.Supp. 434, 438 (E.D.N.Y. 1995) (quoting Church of Scientology v. IRS, 792 F.2d 146, 151 (D.C. Cir. 1986)).

Once an agency has satisfied its burden of demonstrating the adequacy of its search, a plaintiff may defeat summary judgment by making a showing of defendants' bad faith or by providing evidence that an exemption claimed by the agency should not apply. Carney, 19 F.3d at 812.

II. The TSA FOIA Requests

Plaintiff requested three types of documents under FOIA from the TSA, two of which remain at issue: (1) records relating to an airline flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to New York-LaGuardia via Cleveland on March 27, 2006 or March 28, 2006 (the "flight records") and (2) TSA documents that require air carriers to store flight records electronically (the "electronic storage records"). Having reviewed TSA's undisputed facts detailing the search conducted in response to these requests, as well as the affidavit on which the fact statement is based, the court concludes that TSA has met its burden of demonstrating adequate searches for both types of documents.

As an initial matter, TSA's motion relies on the declaration of Yvonne L. Coates, the FOIA Officer for TSA. Decl. of Yvonne L. Coates ("Coates Decl."), Dkt. #102, Ex. 3. In its prior order, the court concluded that Coates had sufficient personal knowledge to provide a declaration in support of TSA's summary judgment motion, and the court does not revisit that conclusion in detail with respect to her new affidavit except to note that, in addition to her supervisory role over "all requests" and familiarity with TSA's FOIA search procedure discussed in the court's prior order, Coates declares that she "has personal knowledge of the facts concerning [plaintiff's] request for records." Id . ¶ 5.

A. The Flight Records

The Coates Declaration sufficiently demonstrates that TSA's additional search for the flight records conducted following the court's prior order was reasonably designed to locate responsive records. The declaration explains that TSA does not have any system or database that would contain information about all flights operated in the United States in 2006. Id . ¶ 17. It further explains that, in responding to plaintiff's request for flight records, TSA's FOIA branch identified that there are three TSA units that "may maintain limited information about a specific flight from that time period in certain unique situations, such as a security incident involving a flight." Id . ¶ 18. The declaration details the role of each of the three offices, the types of records they keep, the records systems that were searched, and the methods by which the systems were searched-both before and after the court's prior order-including the search terms used. Id . ¶¶ 19-44. The search terms used included the city names and airport codes identified in plaintiff's request as well as plaintiff's name and identifying information, and the search terms ...

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