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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Secret Serv. - 579 F. Supp. 2d 143 (D.D.C. 2008)

Rule:

To comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.S. § 552, request, an agency is required to execute a search that is reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Thus, the question is not whether the agency has found every possible responsive document, but whether the search was reasonable in light of the relevant circumstances. The adequacy of a FOIA search is generally determined not by the fruits of the search, but by the appropriateness of the methods used to carry out the search.

Facts:

Plaintiff Judicial Watch, Inc. made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of defendant United States Secret Service (USSS) on January 20, 2006. Plaintiff requested all White House visitor logs from January 1, 2001 to present that reflected the entries and exits of  a certain lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, from the White House. After the USSS did not release any records within the time period provided by FOIA, plaintiff filed suit on February 22, 2006. On April 25, 2006, the parties entered into a stipulated agreement under which the USSS agreed to produce any and all documents responsive to plaintiff's request, without redactions or claims of exemption by May 10, 2006. After querying the two records systems, the USSS released two ACR records on May 10, 2006, and stated that there were no more responsive records. It considered relevant Access Control Records System (ACR) records and Workers and Visitors Entry System (WAVES) records. Plaintiff moved to compel compliance with the Stipulated Agreement and for sanctions. The USSS moved to dismiss. While both motions were pending, the USSS discovered that additional WAVES records predating October 2004 had been inadvertently retained on two Secret Service computers used to transfer WAVES records to CD-ROM. The USSS then had an internal team search those computers for additional WAVES files. The search yielded six additional responsive WAVES records which were released to plaintiff on July 7, 2006. 

Issue:

Taking into consideration the circumstances of the case, did the United States Secret Service comply with the plaintiff’s FOIA request?

Answer:

Yes, partially.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the defendant United States Secret Service has partially complied with plaintiff's FOIA request. According to the Court, however, the USSS has not yet conducted a sufficient search of all WAVES records subject to FOIA, including those which have already been internally deleted and transferred to the White House. The Court ruled that the USSS must move forward and fulfill its obligations under FOIA.

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