Alliance Defending Freedom v. Internal Revenue Service

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ______________________________ ) ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) Civil Action No. 15-525 (EGS) ) INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, ) ) Defendant. ) ______________________________) MEMORANDUM OPINION Plaintiff Alliance Defending Freedom ("ADF") sued the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") to obtain records under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA"). Currently pending before the Court are both parties' motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court GRANTS the IRS's motion for summary judgment and DENIES ADF's cross-motion for summary judgment. I. Background On July 22, 2014, ADF submitted a FOIA request to the IRS for the following records: (1) All documents related to any existing, proposed, new, or adopted procedures for church tax inquiries or examinations from January 2009 to the present; 1 (2) All documents related to proposed or adopted changes to Treasury Regulations §301.7611-1 ("§ 7611 regulation") from January 2009 to the present; and (3) All documents related to new IRS policies or procedures referenced in Freedom From Religion Foundation's ("FFRF") July 17, 2014 press release. IRS's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("IRS SUMF") ¶ 1, ECF No. 25-2; ADF's Resp. to IRS SUMF and Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("ADF SUMF") ¶ 1, ECF No. 26-2. The IRS acknowledged receipt of ADF's request on August 28, 2014. IRS SUMF ¶ 2; ADF SUMF ¶ 2. Between August 2014 and the initiation of the instant litigation, the IRS sent ADF a series of letters in which it asked for more time to respond to ADF's FOIA request. IRS SUMF ¶ 2; ADF SUMF ¶ 2. Having not received any substantive response from the IRS, ADF filed this suit on April 9, 2015, approximately eight months after it made its initial request. IRS SUMF ¶ 2; ADF SUMF ¶ 2. Prior to ADF filing suit, the IRS had initiated its search for documents responsive to ADF's FOIA request. Specifically, the IRS searched the legal file created for the § 7611 regulation project, the file associated with the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the § 7611 regulation, the archive for the revision of the section of the Internal Revenue Manual related to church tax inquiries and examinations, and the files of custodians it determined could have responsive materials. IRS 2 SUMF ¶¶ 10-17; ADF SUMF ¶¶ 10-17. Through these searches, the IRS identified 16,439 pages of documents responsive to ADF's request. IRS's Mot. for Summ. J., Declaration of Brittany Harrison ¶ 12, ECF No. 25-4. Of those, the IRS withheld in full 10,672 pages and released, either in whole or in part, the remainder. Id. ADF subsequently moved to compel a detailed Vaughn index. See Mot. to Compel Detailed Vaughn Index, ECF No. 16. The Court denied that motion, permitting the IRS to instead produce a randomly-selected sample constituting two percent of the pages withheld in full. See Order Denying Motion to Compel ...

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