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Sterrett v. Dep't of the Navy

January 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court


The present action concerns Plaintiff's requests for production of documents under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") and the Privacy Act. Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint as Moot. [Doc. No. 6]. Having considered the parties' arguments, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss.


Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that in or about January 2009 the Inspector General ("IG") for Defendant's Southwest Regional Maintenance Center ("SWRMC") in the County of San Diego commenced an investigation of Plaintiff regarding certain alleged non-criminal, employment-related conduct. (Compl. ¶ 3.) As part of that investigation, the IG interviewed Plaintiff and other persons, obtained affidavits, and obtained other documents (collectively, the "investigation material"). (Id.) Based on the investigation material, the IG prepared an Investigative Report, which Plaintiff alleges was completed in May 2009. (Id. ¶ 4.)

On June 9, 2009, Plaintiff sent a written FOIA request to the SWRMC requesting a copy of the Investigative Report. (Id. ¶ 12; Young Decl., Ex. A.) In a letter dated June 17, 2009, the SWRMC acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's FOIA request, and stated that the "investigative report has not been completed." (Young Decl., Ex. B.) The letter further stated that "[a]s soon as the investigative report is completed, we will mail you a copy pursuant to the provisions of the Privacy Act (PA)." (Id.)

On August 21, 2009, allegedly relying on the Investigative Report and investigation material, the SWRMC issued Plaintiff a notice proposing the termination of her employment. (Compl. ¶ 6) On August 27, 2009, Plaintiff requested from the SWRMC certain investigation material, so that she could adequately respond to the removal proposal.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 7; Tooks Decl., Ex. C.) Defendant responded to Plaintiff's request on September 1, 2009, by providing Plaintiff with a redacted copy of the Investigative Report previously requested. (See Tooks Decl., Ex. D.) Defendant's response also indicated that the investigation was still considered "open and ongoing." (Id.)

Plaintiff commenced the current action on September 23, 2009. [Doc. No. 1]. On October 2, 2009, Plaintiff sent a second written FOIA request to the SWRMC, this time requesting material related to the IG investigation. (Tooks Decl., Ex. E.) Defendant responded to this request on November 4, 2009, providing Plaintiff with certain requested material identified therein. (See id., Ex. F.) On October 15, 2009, the SWRMC also released to Plaintiff a fully unredacted copy of the Investigative Report. (Barley Decl. ¶ 5.)

Defendant filed the present motion on November 23, 2009, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint as moot pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Defendant's motion also asks the Court to find Plaintiff is not entitled to recovery of attorney's fees under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i). Plaintiff filed an opposition on December 21, 2009, and Defendant filed a reply on December 28, 2009. [Doc Nos. 7, 8]. The Court subsequently took the case under submission, vacating the hearing date previously set for January 4, 2010. [Doc. No. 9].


I. Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint as Moot

A. Legal Standard

Federal courts lack jurisdiction to consider moot claims. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) (citations omitted). Thus, if an event occurs while a case is pending that makes it impossible for the court to grant any "'effective relief,'" the claim is moot and must be dismissed. Am. Rivers v. Nat'l Marine Fisheries Serv., 126 F.3d 1118, 1123 (9th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). "In general, when an administrative agency has performed the action sought by a plaintiff in litigation, a federal court 'lacks the ability to grant effective relief,' and the claim is moot."Rosemere Neighborhood Ass'n v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 581 F.3d 1169, 1173 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). A motion to dismiss the complaint as moot may be properly raised by a Rule 12(b)(1) motion. See Bland v. Fessler, 88 F.3d 729, 732 n.4 (9th Cir. 1996).

The party alleging mootness bears a "'heavy burden'" in seeking dismissal.Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000) (citation omitted). It must show that it is "'absolutely clear that the alleged wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.'" Id. (citation omitted). In the present case, this means Defendant must demonstrate it ...

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