Deep Sea Fishermen's Union of the Pacific v United States Department of Commerce et al

Filing 43

ORDER granting Defendants' 38 Motion for Protective Order. Signed by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour. (SR)

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Case 2:21-cv-00452-JCC Document 43 Filed 08/01/22 Page 1 of 3 THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 DEEP SEA FISHERMEN’S UNION OF THE PACIFIC, Plaintiff, v. CASE NO. C21-0452-JCC ORDER UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, et al., 14 Defendants. 15 16 This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ motion for a protective order (Dkt. 17 No. 38). Having thoroughly considered the parties’ briefing and the relevant record, the Court 18 hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein. 19 The Court has previously stated the underlying facts of this case in a prior order (see Dkt. 20 No. 33) and will not repeat them in detail here. In short, Plaintiff submitted a Freedom of 21 Information Act (“FOIA”) request seeking North Pacific Observer Program records. (Dkt. Nos. 4 22 at 3, 9–11; 21 at 2.) Following the Court’s prior order denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel and 23 granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 33), 24 the parties continue to dispute the adequacy of Defendants’ records search and production. In the 25 instant motion, Defendants move for a protective order preventing Plaintiff from deposing Glenn 26 Merrill. (Dkt. No. 38 at 1–2.) ORDER C21-0452-JCC PAGE - 1 Case 2:21-cv-00452-JCC Document 43 Filed 08/01/22 Page 2 of 3 1 As a general rule, FOIA determinations are resolved on summary judgment. See Nat’l 2 Wildlife Fed’n v. U.S. Forest Service, 861 F.2d 1114 (9th Cir. 1988). And discovery supporting 3 summary judgment is rarely needed, since “the underlying case revolves around the propriety of 4 revealing certain documents.” Lane v. Dep’t of Interior, 523 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 2008). 5 When it is necessary, courts often limit its scope to agency affidavits and/or declarations 6 addressing (1) the adequacy of the agency’s search and (2) the suitability of the agency’s claimed 7 exemptions. Withey v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 2020 WL 885974, slip op. at 1 (W.D. Wash. 8 2020). So long as those declarations and affidavits are “made in good faith and provide specific 9 detail about the methods used to produce the information,” no additional discovery is required. 10 Lawyers’ Comm. for C.R. of San Francisco Bay Area v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, 534 F. Supp. 11 2d 1126, 1131 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (citations omitted). 12 Defendants already provided the Court with declarations addressing their search methods. 13 (See Dkt. Nos. 20–23.) Plaintiff argues further discovery is necessary, though, because Mr. 14 Merrill’s use of his personal communication devices, his adherence to Defendants’ document 15 preservation policy, and his knowledge regarding Defendants’ erasure of Government-issued cell 16 phone data remain at issue. (Dkt. No. 41 at 1–2.) They thus seek to depose him on those topics. 17 (See Dkt. Nos. 39 at 2, 39-1 at 2.) 18 But Mr. Merrill already provided the Court with a declaration indicating that he (1) did 19 not have a Government-issued cell phone, (2) does not recall sending work-related text messages 20 on his personal cell phone during the time period Plaintiff requested, and (3) followed 21 Defendants’ document preservation policy to the best of his knowledge. (Dkt. No. 22 at 2–3.) 22 Plaintiff has not provided any evidence that Mr. Merrill’s declaration was made in bad faith, 23 other than mere speculation. (See Dkt. No. 41 at 4–5.) 1 Nor has Plaintiff established how or why 24 25 26 1 Agency declarations are presumed to be made in good faith. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C. Cir. 1982). This “cannot be rebutted by purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.” Id. ORDER C21-0452-JCC PAGE - 2 Case 2:21-cv-00452-JCC Document 43 Filed 08/01/22 Page 3 of 3 1 Mr. Merrill would know anything about Defendants’ erasure of data from Government-issued 2 cell phones, or how deposing him could lead to information on the topic. 3 Therefore, Plaintiff fails to establish that further discovery, including Mr. Merrill’s 4 deposition, is required before the Court can consider Defendants’ anticipated summary judgment 5 motion. (See Dkt. No. 38 at 2 (indicating an intent to file a renewed summary judgment motion).) 6 Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for protective order (Dkt. No. 38). 7 8 DATED this 1st day of August 2022. A 9 10 11 John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER C21-0452-JCC PAGE - 3

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