Plaintiff has requested that the government focus its response on "item 4" documents.
Defendants' search produced approximately 2500 potentially responsive documents. These documents were referred to their originating agencies, who determined whether they were in fact responsive, and if so, whether they could be disclosed. Many of the documents that were ultimately found to be responsive were disclosed in full to plaintiff. They are not the subject of this litigation. Many other documents were either withheld in part or in full. Plaintiff seeks the assistance of this Court in compelling disclosure of those withheld documents.
The DOS contends that it has located no documents responsive to item 4. In 1990, plaintiff sought discovery concerning the nature and scope of DOS's search, and sought documents which had been considered in that search. This court granted defendants a protective order, holding that "discovery is only proper in a Freedom of Information Act case after the defendant has had an opportunity to submit its justification for withholding documents responsive to a FOIA request by a dispositive motion." May 9, 1990 Order.
Upon stipulation of the parties, plaintiffs selected a sample of the 669 documents withheld by the DOS and the 851 documents withheld by the Arms Control Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Defendants were required to produce Vaughn indexes (descriptions of the withheld documents and justifications for their withholding) for those documents. Defendants have submitted those Vaughn indexes, which they claim explain why the documents were properly withheld under exceptions to FOIA. Based upon those indexes, DOS seeks summary judgment that it properly withheld the documents under FOIA exceptions 1 (classified information/national security), 3 (disclosure statutorily barred), and 5 (privileged information). 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(1), (3) and (5). Only documents withheld under exceptions 1 and 5 are at issue in the present motion.
I. IMPROPER DEFENDANTS
As a preliminary matter, defendants move to dismiss James Baker, Secretary of State, and Peter Sheils, Chief, Information Access Branch, Department of State, from the suit. They allege, correctly, that under the FOIA, only agencies are proper parties to FOIA actions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). Plaintiff does not oppose this motion, and we GRANT this motion and dismiss these defendants.
II. SCOPE OF SEARCH
Plaintiff has long had a problem with the scope of defendants' search because plaintiff simply does not believe that a proper search could produce no documents responsive to "item 4" of its request. It alleges that defendants' declarations concerning the manner and scope of the search demonstrate the need for discovery on this matter because some of the facts attested to are based upon "information and belief" rather than personal knowledge.
A FOIA search is adequate if it is "reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Weisberg v. U.S. Department of Justice, 240 U.S. App. D.C. 339, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984), reh. denied, 763 F.2d 1436 (1985). An agency may prove the reasonableness of its search through the declarations of agency officials. Exxon Corp. v. F.T.C., 446 F. Supp. 1088, 1093 (D.D.C. 1974), aff'd, 213 U.S. App. D.C. 356, 663 F.2d 120 (D.C. Cir. 1980). These declarations are not required to
set forth with meticulous documentation the details of an epic search for the requested records. Rather, in the absence of countervailing evidence or apparent inconsistency of proof, affidavits that explain in reasonable detail the scope and method of the search conducted by the agency will suffice to demonstrate compliance with the obligations imposed by the FOIA.