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Aclu of Southern California v. United States Department of Homeland Security

October 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright II United States District Judge

O JS-6



The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California ("Plaintiff" or "ACLU") filed this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking agency records related to a work-site enforcement operation at Terra Universal, Inc., a factory in southern California. (Mot. at 1.) Defendants, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") and its component, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), argue they conducted a reasonable search for agency records and produced all responsive documents that are not exempt from release under FOIA, 2126 pages in total. (Id. ("Defendants have provided declarations detailing their searches and describing the exempt material.").) Thus, Defendants contend, the "Court should grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment." (Id.)


On January 19, 2011, Plaintiff submitted to Defendant ICE a request for agency records pursuant to FOIA and the Privacy Act (the "Request"). (UF 1.) The Request sought two categories of documents: (1) Records relating to ICE policies, procedures and practices with respect to work-site immigration enforcement in effect or issued from January 2010 until the present; and (2) Records relating to Terra Universal, Inc. and Osfel Andrade Castillon. (Id.) Also on January 19, 2011, Plaintiff submitted to Defendant DHS a request seeking the same records. (UF 2.)

DHS first referred the Request to ICE for processing but, following an administrative appeal, DHS processed Plaintiff's Request. (UF 6, 7, 8.) Defendant DHS produced no documents in response to Plaintiff's Request. But, in productions made on June 19 and June 28, 2012, Defendant ICE provided 2113 pages of records and represented that their search was complete. (UF 9.) ICE subsequently produced an additional 13 pages. (Stacy Horth-Neubert Decl. ¶ 5.)


Legal Standard

Summary judgment "should be rendered if the . . . materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is "material" only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 256--57. Once the moving party has done so, the burden shifts to the opposing party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. The nonmoving party "may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists." Id.

Under FOIA, an agency faced with a request for records must demonstrate it conducted "a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Lane v. Dept. of Interior, 523 F.3d 1128, 1139 (9th Cir. 2008). The adequacy of an agency's search under FOIA is reviewed under a standard of reasonableness. Citizens Comm'n on Human Rights v. FDA, 45 F.3d 1325, 1328 (9th Cir. 1995); Church of Scientology Int'l v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 30 F.3d 224, 230 (1st Cir. 1994). The agency need not search every record system that may exist or conduct a perfect search. SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1201 (D.C. Cir. 1991). "The crucial issue is not whether relevant documents might exist, but whether the agency's search was 'reasonably calculated to discover the requested documents.' " Church of Scientology Int'l, 30 F.3d at 230; see also Meeropol v. Meese, 790 F.2d 942, 952--53 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (search is not presumed unreasonable simply because it fails to produce all relevant material).

Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment In its First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, ACLU of Southern California, alleges two causes of action: (1) against ICE for failure to grant a public-interest fee-waiver request; and (2) against ICE and DHS for failure to make an adequate search for records responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request and failure to promptly release the records sought by Plaintiff, in alleged violation of 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A)--(D). (Opp'n at 7.)

First Claim

As Plaintiff acknowledges, "[a]fter the First Amended Complaint was filed, Defendants agreed to grant Plaintiff's request for a fee waiver, as demanded by Plaintiff's First Cause of Action." (Opp'n at 7.) Accordingly, this first claim is MOOT. See, e.g., Hall v. CIA, 437 F.3d 94, 99 (D.C. Cir. 2006) ("[T]he CIA's decision to release documents to Hall without seeking payment from him moots Hall's arguments that the district court's denial of a fee waiver was substantively incorrect. . . . Hall's case is moot because ...

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