JUDICIAL WATCH, INC. v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. Signed by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer on 3/31/2017. (lcrmc1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
JUDICIAL WATCH, INC.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT
OF THE TREASURY,
Civil Action No. 15-1776 (RMC)
Wasn’t it Bernie Sanders who expressed exasperation at the continuing attention
to Hillary Clinton’s emails some 18-20 months ago? He spoke too soon. Many interested
parties have used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2012) to try to find
traces of the former Secretary of State’s use of a private email server in emails at other federal
agencies. Plaintiff Judicial Watch, which sued the Treasury Department to enforce its FOIA
request for such emails, cannot believe that none were found; it wants a broader search.
Treasury insists its three searches were appropriate enough, and has filed a Motion for Summary
Judgement [Dkt. 7], asserting they have met their FOIA obligations. Judicial Watch has
opposed, [Dkt. 12], and Treasury has replied [Dkt. 13]. The Court agrees with Treasury.
Summary judgment will be granted to the Department.
Plaintiff Judicial Watch Inc. is a nonprofit education institution that regularly
requests records under FOIA to “shed light on the operations of the federal government and to
educate the public about those operations.” Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 3. Judicial Watch submitted a
FOIA request to the Department of the Treasury seeking any and all email correspondence
between specific Treasury departments and any “clintonemail.com” address between February 2,
2009 and January 31, 2013. Id. ¶ 5. Specifically, Judicial Watch requested any such emails from
the following three Treasury departments: (1) the Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC); (2) the
Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS); and (3) the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury.
In response, the three named Treasury departments independently conducted
searches for responsive documents. See Def.’s Mem. in Support of Mot. for Sum. J. (MSJ
Mem.) [Dkt. 7-1] at 2; Mot. Sum. J (MSJ) Ex. B [Dkt. 7-4], Ex. C [Dkt. 7-5]. The searches was
limited to the “senior policy officials within each of the three offices,” including “Secretaries of
the Treasury, Associate Directors, Assistant Directors, the Deputy Director, and Director of
OFAC, and the Directors of CFIUS.” MSJ Ex. A (Law Decl.) [Dkt. 7-3] ¶ 5. The Secretary’s
Office and CFIUS searched for any email communication to or from any “clintonemail.com”
address. Id. OFAC, for each individual searched, searched for email communications using
either “clintonemail.com.” “clintonemail” or “clinton” as search terms. Id. No search identified
any responsive documents.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Summary judgment is the typical vehicle to resolve an action brought under
FOIA. See McLaughlin v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 530 F. Supp. 2d 210, 212 (D.D.C.2008). Under
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if the
pleadings, the discovery and disclosure 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 a judgment as a matter of
law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, the Court must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment, however, “may not
rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
FOIA requires federal agencies to release government records to the public upon
request, subject to certain exceptions. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b); Wolf v. C.I.A., 473 F.3d 370, 374
(D.C. Cir. 2007). The defendant in a FOIA case must show that its search for responsive records
was adequate. See Sanders v. Obama, 729 F. Supp. 2d 148, 154 (D.D.C. 2010). In assessing
whether an agency has met its obligations, the inquiry therefore goes to the adequacy of the
search, not whether other responsive records may conceivably exist elsewhere. Steinberg v.
Dep’t of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A search’s adequacy is measured by a
standard of reasonableness and depends on the individual circumstances of each case. Truitt v.
Dep’t of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990); Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of State, 177 F.
Supp. 3d 450, 455 (D.D.C. 2016).
“A requester dissatisfied with the agency’s response that no records have been
found may challenge the adequacy of the agency’s search by filing a lawsuit in the district court
after exhausting any administrative remedies.” Valencia–Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d
321, 326 (D.C. Cir. 1999). “[T]he agency must demonstrate beyond material doubt that its
search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.” Nation Magazine, Wash.
Bureau v. U.S. Customs Serv., 71 F.3d 885, 890 (D.C. Cir. 1995). An agency must search for
documents in good faith, using methods that are reasonably expected to produce the requested
information. Valencia–Lucena, 180 F.3d at 326 (citing Oglesby v. U.S. Dep’t of Army, 920 F.2d
57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). The principal issue is not whether the agency’s search uncovered
responsive documents, but whether the search was reasonable. Oglesby, 920 F.2d at 67 n.13
(citing Meeropol v. Meese, 790 F.2d 942, 952–53 (D.C. Cir. 1986)). The agency need not search
every record in the system or conduct a perfect search. SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d
1197, 1201 (D.C. Cir. 1991); Meeropol, 790 F.2d at 952, 956.
Treasury argues that its searches for documents were adequate, and it is therefore
entitled to summary judgment. MSJ Mem. at 1. Judicial Watch counters that Treasury has not
shown that its search, limited only to senior officials, was appropriate. Opp. at 3. Specifically,
Judicial Watch argues that Treasury has not demonstrated that it was unable to perform a global
search of all employees’ emails in the three offices. Id. If Treasury is able to execute such a
search, Judicial Watch argues, then “Treasury’s decision to narrow the search [to senior agency
officials] would not be reasonable or appropriate.” Id.
However, the operative question is not whether a global search of all employees is
technically possible, but whether Treasury’s searches were “reasonably calculated to uncover all
relevant documents.” Nation Magazine, 71 F.3d at 890. Treasury has proffered, through its
supporting affidavits, that senior agency officials were “the only people in each office who could
reasonably have communicated with Ms. Clinton or one of her senior aides, while Ms. Clinton
was serving as Secretary of State.” Law Decl. ¶ 5. Treasury asserts that, because of this fact,
only a search of those officials’ emails would be reasonably likely to uncover any relevant
Judicial Watch has given the Court no reason to doubt Treasury’s
commonsensical explanation. While it may be the case that Treasury could perform a global
search of all its employees’ emails, there is no indication that such a search of non-senior
employees would be reasonably calculated to uncover relevant documents. There is further no
allegation or indication that Treasury undertook its searches in bad faith. Treasury identified the
relevant records to search and searched them using appropriate search terms. FOIA requires no
Because Treasury’s searches for documents were adequate, the Court will grant
its Motion for Summary Judgment. A memorializing Order accompanies this Memorandum
Date: March 31, 2017
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER
United States District Court
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