University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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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, plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Freedom of Information Act ( ... 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, 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, plaintiff had submitted a FOIA request to 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 noncitizens 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, plaintiffs 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. 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.

This case is ongoing.

Ava Morgenstern - 04/07/2018
Virginia Weeks - 10/17/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
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 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 None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
1:17-cv-2518 (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/12/2018
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]
Judges Cooper, Christopher Reid (D.D.C.)
IM-DC-0040-0004 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Burday, Joshua Hart (Illinois)
IM-DC-0040-0001 | IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Topic, Matthew Vincent (Illinois)
IM-DC-0040-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Liu, Jessie K. (District of Columbia)
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003
Simon, Jeremy S (District of Columbia)
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003 | IM-DC-0040-9000
Van Horn, Daniel F (District of Columbia)
IM-DC-0040-0002 | IM-DC-0040-0003

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