United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR USDA RE: DKT. NO.
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge
Animal Legal Defense Fund's (“ALDF”) motion
for summary judgment, and defendants United States Department
of Agriculture's (“USDA”) and Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service's (“APHIS”
and together, “defendants”) cross-motion for
summary judgment, came on for hearing before this court on
March 28, 2018. Plaintiff appeared through its counsel,
Justin Okun and Sarah Hanneken. Defendants appeared through
their counsel, Daniel Halainen. Having read the papers filed
by the parties and carefully considered their arguments and
the relevant legal authority, and good cause appearing, the
court hereby GRANTS defendants' motion and DENIES
plaintiff's motion as follows.
matter arises out of a Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) request submitted by ALDF to APHIS, a
component of the USDA, for records related to a medical
inspection of a tiger named Tony. Plaintiff alleges
defendants violated the FOIA by failing to expedite
plaintiff's FOIA application for information related to
Tony. The parties do not dispute the material facts. Dkt. 29
at 1 (claims “rest on the same purely legal
dispute”); Dkt. 30 at 5 (“Like the vast majority
of FOIA cases, no discovery was conducted and the Court is
simply asked to make a legal ruling based on undisputed
was a Siberian-Bengal Tiger kept in captivity at a gas
station in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, known as the
“Tiger Truck Stop.” Compl. ¶¶ 1-2; Dkt.
26 at 2. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has been involved in
litigation attempting to relocate Tony for some time. Compl.
¶ 18; Dkt. 26 at 3-4. During plaintiff's work on the
case, veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Conrad, DVM, reviewed videos
and photographs of Tony. Compl. ¶ 19; Dkt. 26 at 4. She
expressed concerns regarding his health, and on April 7,
2017, ALDF requested that APHIS inspect the Tiger Truck Stop
to determine if it was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act
for failure to provide adequate veterinary care for Tony.
Compl. ¶¶ 19-20; Dkt. 26 at 4. APHIS responded that
it had received ALDF's request for an inspection and that
ALDF needed to file a FOIA request to learn the results. Dkt.
26 at 5.
4, 2017, ALDF submitted a FOIA request to APHIS for records
regarding its request for inspection. Compl. ¶¶ 4,
21. Due to ALDF's belief that Tony's condition could
be life-threatening, ALDF requested expedited processing of
the FOIA request. ALDF stated that it believed expedited
processing was warranted under Section 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) of
the FOIA, which provides for expedited processing when
“a failure to obtain requested records on an expedited
basis . . . could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent
threat to the life or physical safety of an
individual.” Compl. ¶¶ 4, 21- 24.
11, 2017, defendants denied the request for expedited
processing, stating that “Tony the Tiger is not
considered an ‘individual'” under the FOIA
because “the term ‘individual' in this matter
only encompasses human beings.” Compl. ¶ 25 &
Ex. B. On May 22, 2017, ALDF appealed the denial of expedited
processing and requested expedited processing of the appeal.
Compl. ¶ 28 & Ex. C; Dkt. 26 at 5. On May 30, 2017,
defendants acknowledged receipt of the appeal and stated that
the target response date for the appeal would be June 26,
2017. Compl. ¶ 31 & Ex. D; Dkt. 26 at 5. However,
defendants never responded to the appeal of the denial of
expedited processing. Compl. ¶ 32; Dkt. 26 at 5.
11, 2017, plaintiff had not yet received records or a
response regarding its appeal, and it filed this action
seeking the records and challenging the denial of expedited
processing. See Compl.; Dkt. 26 at 5-6. In addition,
plaintiff sought prospective declaratory relief that the term
“individual” encompasses nonhuman animals under
Section 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) of the FOIA, as well as
prospective injunctive relief generally requiring that
defendants treat nonhuman animals as
“individuals” for purposes of expedited
processing under the FOIA. Compl. at 13.
August 14, 2017, defendants substantively responded to the
FOIA request. Dkt. 25 at 4; Dkt 25-1 (“Coleman
Decl.”) ¶ 9; Dkt. 26 at 6; Dkt. 27
(“Hanneken Decl.”) ¶ 6 & Exs. C-D. On
October 3, 2017, defendants informed plaintiff that they had
“located, but have not released, additional potentially
responsive records, which it currently estimates to total
less than 100 pages” and stated that they would release
the additional responsive records by October 20, 2017. Dkt.
26 at 6; Dkt. 21 (Joint CMC Statement) ¶¶ 2, 17.
October 16, 2017, Tony was reportedly killed by his owner
after suffering from health issues. Dkt. 26 at 2. On October
20, 2017, as planned, defendants provided forty-three
additional pages of responsive, partially-redacted documents.
Coleman Decl. ¶ 10; Dkt. 25 at 4; Dkt. 26 at 8.
have released the records plaintiff requested. Coleman Decl.
¶ 12. All work on plaintiff's request for records is
complete, and plaintiff is not challenging the adequacy of
defendants' production of records related to Tony. Dkt.
26 at 9 (“Defendants provided a complete record to
20, 2017 and August 18, 2017, ALDF submitted three unrelated
FOIA requests for expedited processing to APHIS. Dkt. 26 at
6; Hanneken Decl. ¶ 7 & Exs. E- G. Two of those
requests for expedited processing were denied, with APHIS
contending that “individual” refers only to human
beings. Dkt. 26 at 6-7; Hanneken Decl. ¶ 8 & Exs.
now requests three forms of relief: (1) a declaration that
defendants unlawfully failed to comply with the expedited
processing requirements of the Freedom of Information Act by
asserting that the term “individual” under
Section 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) of the FOIA encompasses human
beings only; (2) a declaration that nonhuman animals are
“individuals” within the meaning of Section
552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) of the FOIA; and (3) a permanent
injunction requiring defendants treat nonhuman animals as
“individuals” for purposes of expedited
processing under the FOIA.
judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery, and
affidavits show 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). Material facts are
those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A
dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is
sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict
for the nonmoving party. Id.
moving party for summary judgment bears the initial burden of
identifying those portions of the pleadings, discovery, and
affidavits which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue
of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986); Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v.
Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000). When
the moving party has met this burden of production, the
nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by its own
affidavits or discovery, set forth specific facts showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. If the
nonmoving party fails to produce enough evidence to show a
genuine issue of material fact, the moving party wins.
summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party: if evidence
produced by the moving party conflicts with evidence produced
by the nonmoving party, the judge must assume the truth of
the evidence set forth by the nonmoving party with respect to
that fact. See Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1865
(2014); Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1158
(9th Cir. 1999). “Most FOIA cases are resolved by the
district court on summary judgment[.]” Animal Legal
Def. Fund v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 836 F.3d 987,
989 (9th Cir. 2016) (per curiam).
parties raise two issues: (1) whether the court has
jurisdiction over plaintiff's cause of action; and (2)
whether the term “individual” encompasses
nonhuman animals under Section 552(a)(6)(E)(v)(I) of the
Whether the Court Has Jurisdiction to ...