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Case Name Government Accountability Project v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security IM-DC-0040
Docket / Court 1:17-cv-02518-CRC ( 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 Nov. 21, 2017, the organization Government Accountability Project brought this suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Represented by the civil rights law firm Loevy & Lovey, the plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information ... read more >
On Nov. 21, 2017, the organization Government Accountability Project brought this suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Represented by the civil rights law firm Loevy & Lovey, the plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Plaintiff is a nonprofit organization "serving the public by protecting government and corporate whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing." The complaint alleged that on Apr. 4, 2017, the plaintiff had submitted a FOIA request to the defendant seeking records concerning:
1. All non-exempt correspondence between White House staff and defendant concerning ideological tests at the U.S. border;
2. All correspondence concerning searches of citizens and non-citizens at the U.S. border, including searches of cellphones, the protocols, information about who was searched (with identifying information redacted), search rates, and protocols if a search is refused;
3. Any records generated in connection with topics listed above that raised or were responding to compliance of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8) (a whistleblower protection statute for federal employees).

The complaint further alleged that, to date, the plaintiff had not received a substantive response from defendants. Plaintiff sought a disclosure order under FOIA, legal fees, and expedited action.

On Nov. 22, 2017, the case was assigned to Judge Christopher R. Cooper. The parties filed their first joint status report on Feb. 27, 2018, and their next on Apr. 3, specifying that DHS still needed to provide an estimated production schedule. According to a status report filed on May 8, DHS had completed processing the request and determined it had no responsive records.

Litigation continued, and the government moved for summary judgment. The court (Judge Christopher R. Cooper) denied the motion on Oct. 12, 2018. 335 F.Supp.3d 7. The court held that the government "unreasonably omitted additional search terms that quite likely would have generated a more robust return." The court held that "FOIA requests are not a game of Battleship [and t]he requester should not have to score a direct hit on the records sought based on the precise phrasing of his request. Rather, the agency must liberally interpret the request and frame its search accordingly." Accordingly, the court ordered the government to search for responsive records again pending the parties conferring over the search terms.

On November 16, 2018, the parties submitted a status report regarding their agreement with the search terms. The court reviewed the disagreements the plaintiff and the defendants had and concluded that the plaintiff's additional requests were beyond the scope of the original FOIA request. Therefore, the court ordered that the defendants need only conduct the additional search agreed upon in their status report, but that they must use the date of that search as the cut-off date for search returns.

In a status report dated September 13, 2019, the defendants stated that they had inadvertently utilized the cut-off date for the original search. In the subsequent two joint reports, the parties stated that DHS had completed its supplemental search and review of the returned records, and that none of the records were responsive to the FOIA request. The plaintiff stated that additional time was needed to determine whether any issues remained outstanding in this case. On the status reports dated January 7-8, 2020, the parties stated that the only outstanding issue was the payment of attorney fees, which they were unable to reach an agreement on. The plaintiff filed a motion for attorney fees on February 21, 2020, which was denied by Judge Cooper on June 2, 2020. The case was dismissed.

Ava Morgenstern - 04/07/2018
Virginia Weeks - 10/17/2018
Averyn Lee - 06/03/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Content of Injunction
Required disclosure
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Record-keeping
Records Disclosure
Search policies
Immigration/Border
Admission - criteria
Admission - procedure
Border police
Visas - criteria
Visas - procedures
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Plaintiff Description A nonprofit organization protecting government whistleblowers
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2018 - n/a
Filed 11/21/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
1:17-cv-2518 (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/02/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-DC-0040-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/21/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report and Proposed Schedule [ECF# 5]
IM-DC-0040-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/27/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report and Proposed Schedule [ECF# 6]
IM-DC-0040-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/03/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 15] (2018 WL 4954149) (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 10/12/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report Regarding Search Terms [ECF# 17]
IM-DC-0040-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 18] (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/21/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Status Report [ECF# 20]
IM-DC-0040-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/13/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 31] (2020 WL 4931932) (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/02/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Cooper, Christopher Reid (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-0004 | IM-DC-0040-0006 | IM-DC-0040-0008 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burday, Joshua Hart (Illinois) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-0001 | IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-0005 | IM-DC-0040-0007 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Topic, Matthew Vincent (Illinois) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-9000
Wayne, Merrick Jason (Illinois) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Liu, Jessie K. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-0005 | IM-DC-0040-0007
Simon, Jeremy S (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-0005 | IM-DC-0040-0007 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Van Horn, Daniel F (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-0005 | IM-DC-0040-0007

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