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Lion Raisins, Inc. v. United States Dep't of Agriculture

August 15, 2008

LION RAISINS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

SCHEDULING CONFERENCE ORDER

Motion for Right to Conduct Discovery Filing Deadline: 9/29/08

Hearing Date: 11/3/08 10:00

Ctrm. 3

Judgment Filing Deadline:

I. Date of Scheduling Conference. August 14, 2008.

Cross-Motions For Summary 5/18/09 Oppositions Filing Deadline: 6/2/09 Replies Filing Deadline: 6/9/09 Hearing Date: 6/6/09 10:00 Ctrm. 3 (Time Reserved for Extended Oral Argument)

II. Summary of Pleadings.

1. Complaint: This is an action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Plaintiff, a raisin handler, alleges in its Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief; Stay of Administrative Proceedings; Temporary Restraining Order; and Attorneys' Fees ("Complaint") that USDA has improperly withheld information relating to USDA inspection and grading of Plaintiff's raisins. The Complaint contains nine counts, as follows:

2. Count One: Refusal to Produce Disposition Plans for "FR" and "RAC" Forms (FOIA No. 97-07). Plaintiff alleges that USDA failed to perform an adequate search for requested records and withheld disposition plans for "FR" and "RAC" forms in bad faith and for the purpose of delay.

3. Count Two: Refusal to Produce Transfer and Destruction Records (FOIA No. 96-07). Plaintiff alleges that USDA failed to perform an adequate search for records and falsely claimed that requested records had been destroyed. Plaintiff further alleges that the USDA Administrator improperly and in bad faith upheld the agency's determination after Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal.

4. Count Three: Refusal to Produce Line Check Sheets and Memorandum Reports of Inspection (FOIA No. 184-001). Plaintiff alleges that USDA failed to perform an adequate search for requested records and improperly withheld documents including Line Check Sheets for recondition, Afghan and Chilean raisins. Plaintiff further alleges that the USDA Administrator improperly and in bad faith upheld the agency's determination after Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal.

5. Count Four: Failure to Respond to Appeal Re: Renewed Request for Worksheets (FOIA No. 85-04). Plaintiff alleges that USDA improperly withheld Certificate Worksheets based upon an ongoing administrative investigation under Exemption 7(A). Plaintiff further alleges that Worksheets were illegally transferred from the Fresno Field Office to Washington, D.C.

6. Count Five: Failure to Respond to Request for Disposition Records for Worksheets. Plaintiff alleges that USDA failed to timely answer a request for the disposition schedule and all records relating to the destruction and/or transfer of Worksheets.

7. Count Six: Failure to Respond to Appeal Re: Warning Letters and Compliance Cases (FOIA No. 61-01). Plaintiff alleges that in response to an FOIA request, USDA released six batches of records from which certain information was redacted to protect trade and financial secrets, privacy, and for law enforcement purposes. Plaintiff alleges that USDA failed to properly identify the redactions.

8. Count Seven: Refusal to Provide Access to Original Records (FOIA Nos. 22-06, 23-06, 25-06 and 27-06). Plaintiff alleges that in response to Plaintiff's request for physical access to original Line Check Sheets, Worksheets, Voided Certificates, Letters and/or Memorandum Reports of Investigation, USDA requested unreasonable fees for search and review, which fees were tantamount to an outright denial. Plaintiff further alleges that the USDA Administrator improperly upheld the decision.

9. Count Eight: Violation of Administrative Procedure Act. Plaintiff contends that USDA's actions were arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.

10. Count Nine: Bad Faith by the USDA. Plaintiff contends that USDA's refusal to produce documents was arbitrary, capricious and a bad faith attempt to delay processing of the requests and to conceal exculpatory evidence.

11. Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief, including an injunction requiring USDA to produce the requested documents. Plaintiff further requests issuance of a stay of administrative debarment proceedings against Plaintiff; a temporary and permanent injunction against destruction of inspection and grading records; and other relief including a fee waiver, sanctions and attorney's fees.

12. Answer: USDA admits that Plaintiff submitted certain FOIA requests and that USDA released thousands of pages of records in full or in part in response to Plaintiff's FOIA requests. USDA further admits that portions of the requested records were properly withheld pursuant to statutory exemptions under FOIA. USDA further admits that its responses to Plaintiff's requests have been upheld upon administrative appeal by Plaintiff. USDA denies that it has improperly withheld any records or portions of records. USDA denies each and every allegation of improper conduct and bad faith. USDA also asserts various affirmative defenses including that Plaintiff failed to follow required administrative procedures, made improper FOIA requests, and seeks remedies that are not available under FOIA. USDA denies that Plaintiff is entitled to any relief whatsoever, and USDA requests that the Complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

III. Orders Re Amendments To Pleadings.

1. Plaintiff contemplates amending the pleadings and shall have through and including August 25, 2008, to file an amended complaint. The government shall have fifteen ...


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