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Case Name Protect Democracy Project v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security IM-DC-0035
Docket / Court 1:17-cv-02202-RDM ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Special Collection Trump Administration FOIA cases
Case Summary
On Oct. 24, 2017, the Protect Democracy Project filed this lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the complaint, plaintiff is a nonprofit organization with a "mission is to protect our democracy from descending into ... read more >
On Oct. 24, 2017, the Protect Democracy Project filed this lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the complaint, plaintiff is a nonprofit organization with a "mission is to protect our democracy from descending into a more autocratic form of government by preventing those in power from depriving Americans of a free, fair, and fully-informed opportunity to exercise ultimate sovereignty." As part of its activities, plaintiff aims to inform the public about executive branch activity, including by filing FOIA requests and releasing the results on its website. The law firm Covington & Burling represented plaintiff in this case.

Plaintiff sought disclosure of agency records by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that would shed light on the extent to which defendants cooperated with armed private militia groups along the U.S.-Mexico border. In his Jan. 25, 2017 Executive Order 13767, President Trump directed DHS to hire 5,000 additional CBP agents. According to plaintiff, public reports suggest that CBP agents may be informally working with unaffiliated militia groups to police the border.

The complaint alleged that on Aug. 3, 2017, plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to DHS seeking copies of records related to the following:
1. DHS's interactions and involvement with unaffiliated border enforcement groups, including all communications between CBP field officers and any other component of DHS relating to such groups, and all communications between any DHS employee and any representative of such group;
2. CBP's interactions and involvement with such groups at the Sectors of Big Bend, Del Rio, Laredo, and Rio Grande Valley, TX; Tuscon and Yuma, AZ; and El Centro and San Diego, CA.

The complaint further alleged that, to date, plaintiff had not received a substantive response from DHS or CBP. Plaintiff sought an expedited disclosure order under FOIA and sought legal fees.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and was assigned to Judge Randolph D. Moss.

Also on Oct. 24, plaintiff filed a notice that this case was related to another with the same name, Protect Democracy Project v. DHS, No. 1:17-cv-02118 (D.D.C. Oct. 13, 2017).

Status reports filed from March through October 2018 indicated the parties continued to confer on the scope of the search and that the defendants produced responsive records periodically.

A status conference was held on October 29, 2018, and the court ordered that CBP provide a description of the searches that the agency has conducted as well as hit counts for the searches by November 5 and 12, respectively. The court ordered DHS to meet and confer with the plaintiffs to discuss the plaintiff’s request for an explanation of the agency’s redactions.

In the status report dated Nov. 16, 2018, the plaintiffs claimed that DHS had failed to respond to the requests to meet and confer for eleven days after the imposed deadline, and asked the court to enter an order requiring DHS to provide them with a summary of the basis for its redactions and withholdings and an explanation for its failure to respond to the meet and confer request. The court ordered the parties to meet and confer. The plaintiffs further submitted in a later report dated March 15, 2019, that DHS had failed to comply with the agreed ordered production schedule. The court ordered DHS to submit a declaration. DHS submitted a declaration stating that they were unable to process any records temporarily due to the government shutdown at the time and the high workload that resulted afterward.

In the latest joint status report filed by the parties on June 12, 2020 the defendants reported that they continued to experience work disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that they expected to complete their processing and release of remaining, non-exempt records by the end of July.

This case is ongoing.

Ava Morgenstern - 05/05/2018
Virginia Weeks - 10/25/2018
Averyn Lee - 06/30/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Record-keeping
Records Disclosure
Immigration/Border
Border police
Border wall
Undocumented immigrants - rights and duties
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Plaintiff Description A nonprofit organization seeking disclosure of executive branch records for public information
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 10/24/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing IM-DC-0036 : Protect Democracy Project v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (D.D.C.)
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
1:17-cv-02202-RDM (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0035-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/14/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 1]
IM-DC-0035-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/24/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Status Report [ECF# 14]
IM-DC-0035-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/02/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report and Proposed Production Schedule [ECF# 16]
IM-DC-0035-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/13/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Supplemental Status Report [ECF# 27]
IM-DC-0035-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/24/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff's Status Report [ECF# 29]
IM-DC-0035-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Status Report [ECF# 33]
IM-DC-0035-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/15/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Status Report [ECF# 46]
IM-DC-0035-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Moss, Randolph Daniel (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barnett, Kevin Travers (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0001 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Gore, Nikhil V. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0001 | IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-0004 | IM-DC-0035-0005 | IM-DC-0035-0006 | IM-DC-0035-0007 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Iraola, David J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0004 | IM-DC-0035-0005 | IM-DC-0035-0006 | IM-DC-0035-0007 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Saperstein, Jennifer H. show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0001 | IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Schwartztol, Laurence Michael (New York) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0001 | IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-0004 | IM-DC-0035-0005 | IM-DC-0035-0006 | IM-DC-0035-0007
Defendant's Lawyers Liu, Jessie K. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-0003 | IM-DC-0035-0006
Pfaffenroth, Peter C (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0007 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Sherwin, Michael R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0007
Sroka, Scott Leeson (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-0003 | IM-DC-0035-0006 | IM-DC-0035-9000
Van Horn, Daniel F (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0035-0002 | IM-DC-0035-0003 | IM-DC-0035-0006 | IM-DC-0035-0007

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