JUDICIAL WATCH, INC. v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
COMPLAINT against DEPARTMENT OF STATE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4826131) filed by JUDICIAL WATCH, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Summons US Attorney for DC, # 3 Summons US Attorney General, # 4 Summons DOS)(Cotca, Ramona)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
JUDICIAL WATCH, INC.,
425 Third Street SW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20024,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
The Executive Office
Office of the Legal Adviser, Suite 5.600
600 19th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20522,
Civil Action No.
Plaintiff Judicial Watch, Inc. brings this action against Defendant U.S. Department of
State to compel compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (“FOIA”). As
grounds therefor, Plaintiff alleges as follows:
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)
and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
Venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e).
Plaintiff Judicial Watch, Inc. is a not-for-profit, educational organization
incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia and headquartered at 425 Third Street
SW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20024. Plaintiff seeks to promote transparency, integrity, and
accountability in government and fidelity to the rule of law. As part of its mission, Plaintiff
regularly requests records from federal agencies pursuant to FOIA. Plaintiff analyzes the
agencies’ responses and disseminates both its findings and the requested records to the American
public to inform them about “what their government is up to.”
Defendant U.S. Department of State is an agency of the United States
Government headquartered at 2201 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20520. Defendant has
possession, custody, and control of records to which Plaintiff seeks access.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
On December 2, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to Defendant seeking
access to the following records:
a) All records that concern or relate to the processing of FOIA Request No. F-201408848, served on the State Department by Judicial Watch, Inc. on May 13, 2014.
Any and all tasking, tracking, and reporting records for searches conducted in
response to the request should be considered responsive. Forms DS-1748 and any
“search slips,” “search tasker,” and “search details,” also should be considered
b) All internal State Department communications that concern or relate to the processing
of or search for records responsive to FOIA Request No. F-2014-08848, including
any directions or guidance about how and where to conduct the searches, whether and
how to search the emails of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and any
issues, problems, or questions regarding the searches and/or search results.
c) All records that concern or relate to the State Department’s discovery, prior to
February 2, 2015, that additional searches for record responsive to FOIA Request No.
F-2014-08848 were [sic] necessary. In this regard, the State Department represented
in a February 2, 2015 status report filed in litigation regarding FOIA Request No. F2014-08848 that:
In the course of preparing additional information to provide to Plaintiff for
purposes of settlement discussions, Defendant has discovered that additional
searches for documents potentially responsive to the FOIA [request] must be
Any records, including communications, regarding this discovery referenced in the
status report should be considered responsive.
d) All records that concern, relate to, or identify the location(s) or source(s) of
Joint Status Report, Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of State, Case No. 14-cv-2142 (RCL) (D. District of
Columbia) (Dkt. Entry No. 11) at para. 3.
potentially responsive records that necessitated the “additional searches” referenced
in the February 2, 2015 status report.
For convenience, Plaintiff attached a copy of Request No. F-2014-08848 with the FOIA
request at issue in this lawsuit, as was a copy of the State Department’s initial, November 12,
2014 response to the request and the February 2, 2015 status report.
According to U.S. Postal Service records, the request was delivered to Defendant
on December 12, 2016.
By letter dated December 14, 2016, Defendant acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff’s
request and advised Plaintiff that the request had been assigned Case Control Number F-201617249.
As of the date of this Complaint, Defendant has failed to: (i) produce the
requested records or demonstrate that the requested records are lawfully exempt from
production; (ii) notify Plaintiff of the scope of any responsive records Defendant intends to
produce or withhold and the reasons for any withholdings; or (iii) inform Plaintiff that it may
appeal any adequately specific, adverse determination.
Violation of FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552
Plaintiff realleges paragraphs 1 through 8 as if fully stated herein.
Plaintiff is being irreparably harmed by reason of Defendant’s violation of FOIA,
and Plaintiff will continue to be irreparably harmed unless Defendant is compelled to comply
To trigger FOIA’s administrative exhaustion requirement, Defendant was
required to determine whether to comply with Plaintiff’s request within twenty (20) working
days of receiving the request, or on or about January 3, 2017. At a minimum, Defendant was
required to: (i) gather and review the requested documents; (ii) determine and communicate to
Plaintiff the scope of any responsive records Defendant intended to produce or withhold and the
reasons for any withholdings; and (iii) inform Plaintiff that it may appeal any adequately
specific, adverse determination. See, e.g., Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
v. Federal Election Commission, 711 F.3d 180, 188-89 (D.C. Cir. 2013).
Because Defendant failed to determine whether to comply with Plaintiff’s request
within the time period required by FOIA, Plaintiff is deemed to have exhausted its administrative
appeal remedies. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C)(i).
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests that the Court: (1) order Defendant to
conduct searches for any and all records responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request and demonstrate
that it employed search methods reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of records responsive
to Plaintiff’s FOIA request; (2) order Defendant to produce, by a date certain, any and all nonexempt records responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request and a Vaughn index of any responsive
records withheld under claim of exemption; (3) enjoin Defendant from continuing to withhold
any and all non-exempt records responsive to Plaintiff’s FOIA request; (4) grant Plaintiff an
award of attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in this action pursuant to 5
U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E); and (5) grant Plaintiff such other relief as the Court deems just and
Dated: January 31, 2017
/s/ Ramona R. Cotca
Ramona R. Cotca (D.C. Bar No. 501159)
JUDICIAL WATCH, INC.
425 Third Street S.W., Suite 800
Washington, DC 20024
Counsel for Plaintiff
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