United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
S. Zilly United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment, docket no. 17 and Plaintiffs' Cross
Motion for Summary Judgment, docket no. 20. Having reviewed
all papers filed in support of and in opposition to the
motions, as well as documents submitted for in
camera review, the Court enters the following order.
2010, Plaintiff Gurnek Singh filed an I-130 Petition for
Alien Relative on behalf of his wife, Plaintiff Pawan Deep
Kaur. Ex. 2 to Stein Decl. (docket no. 18-2 at 2). By letter
dated December 21, 2015, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi
informed Plaintiff Kaur that she was found ineligible for an
immigrant visa under Immigration and Nationality Act
(“INA”) § 212 (a)(3)(b). Id. at
dated February 19, 2017, Plaintiffs submitted a Freedom of
Information Act (“FOIA”) request seeking:
Any and all documents or information regarding the December
2015 denial of an immigrant visa for [Pawan Deep Kaur] for
being found ineligible under the following section of the
Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States: INA
212(a)(3)(b) - Security-Related Grounds, Terrorism.
Id. at 2.
February 19, 2018, the Office of Information Programs and
Services of the Department of State (“IPS”)
informed Plaintiffs that it had located 94 responsive
records. Ex. 6 to Stein Decl. (docket no. 18-6). Defendants
informed Plaintiffs that it would release 38 of the documents
in full, but that it was withholding 47 of the documents in
full and 9 of the documents in part. Id. On March
26, 2019, IPS informed Plaintiffs that it had located 11
additional responsive documents, of which it would release
four in full, five in part, and withhold two entirely. Ex. 7
to Stein Decl. (docket no. 18-7).
August 16, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this action, alleging that
“[t]o date no documents have been produced.”
Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶ 2. Plaintiffs seek to
compel Defendants to conduct a search for any and all
responsive records to the FOIA request, demonstrate that
Defendants employed search methods reasonably likely to lead
to the discovery of records, produce a Vaughn index,
and enjoin Defendants from withholding any non-exempt
responsive records. Docket no. 1 at 9. Plaintiffs also seek
declaratory relief that the Defendants violated FOIA by
failing to produce non-exempt records responsive to
Plaintiffs' FOIA request within the twenty-day time
period set forth in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i). After
Defendants answered the complaint in November 2018,
Defendants produced some documents pursuant to
Plaintiffs' February 2017 FOIA request. Plaintiffs now
seek the production of other documents that have not been
parties have moved for summary judgment on the sufficiency of
the Defendants' search, the adequacy of Defendants'
Vaughn index, and the applicability of the
exemptions justifying the withholding of responsive
documents. Plaintiffs seek to require Defendants to conduct a
search of responsive documents and demonstrate that the
withheld documents fall within a valid exemption, or in the
alternate, request that the Court view the documents in
camera to determine whether the withheld documents fall
within the stated exemptions.
minute order dated October 25, 2019, the Court ordered
Defendants to supplement the Vaughn descriptions for
documents numbered 13-14, 36-49, and 52-55.Docket no. 24. The
Court further ordered Defendants to produce those documents
in camera and under ex parte seal for the
Court's review. Id.
Motion for Summary Judgment
disputes may be-and often are-resolved via motions for
summary judgment. Lane v. Dep't of Interior, 523
F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 2008); Shannahan v.
I.R.S., 637 F.Supp.2d 902, 912 (W.D. Wash. 2009). Facts
are rarely in dispute in a FOIA case. Minier v. Cent.
Intelligence Agency, 88 F.3d 796, 800 (9th Cir. 1996).
Thus, the standard for summary judgment in a FOIA case
generally requires a two-step inquiry. The burden of proof
for both inquiries is on the Government, and the Court
reviews the Government's response to the FOIA request on
a de novo basis. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B).
Court must first determine whether the Government fully
discharged its obligations under FOIA by establishing that it
conducted a search “reasonably calculated” to
uncover all responsive documents. Zemansky v. U.S. Envtl.
Prot. Agency, 767 F.2d 569, 571 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing
Weisberg v. United States Dep't. of Justice, 745
F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). This ...