Cause of Action v. Internal Revenue Service

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ______________________________ ) CAUSE OF ACTION INSTITUTE, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) Civil Action No. 14-1407 (EGS) ) INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, ) et al. ) ) Defendants. ) ______________________________) MEMORANDUM OPINION Plaintiff Cause of Action Institute (“Cause of Action”) 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 the parties’ cross- 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 Cause of Action’s cross-motion for summary judgment. I. BACKGROUND In April 2009, White House Counsel Gregory Craig issued a memorandum advising “all federal agency and department general counsels to consult with the White House on all document requests that may involve documents with ‘White House 1 equities.’” Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1-3; Pl.’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Pl.’s SUMF”), ECF No. 55-2 ¶ 1. Concerned about the White House’s involvement in the FOIA process, Cause of Action requested the following records from the IRS: All records, including but not limited to e- mails, letters, meeting records, and phone records, reflecting communications between IRS FOIA staff or IRS Chief Counsel’s office and the White House Counsel’s office concerning records forwarded by the IRS for White House review in connection with document requests by Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or FOIA requesters. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 17; Pl.’s SUMF ¶ 2. 1 The request, which was submitted on May 29, 2013, sought records from “January 2009 to the present.” Id. The IRS acknowledged receipt of Cause of Action’s request on June 25, 2013, but then proceeded to ask for numerous extensions of time to respond. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 18- 23; Pl.’s SUMF ¶¶ 3-4. When Cause of Action filed this action on August 18, 2014, the IRS had not yet produced any responsive records or provided a final determination as to plaintiff’s FOIA request. Pl.’s SUMF ¶¶ 5, 7. 1 Cause of Action sent substantially similar FOIA requests to eleven other government agencies as well. See Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 16. Although this lawsuit initially included those agencies, see generally id., Cause of Action eventually dismissed them from this action after receiving the requested records, see Stip. of Dismissal, ECF No. 57; Stip. of Dismissal, ECF No. 68. 2 According to the declarations submitted by the IRS in support of its motion for summary judgment, the IRS first began searching for records responsive to Cause of Action’s request on August 21, 2013, approximately three months after the date of plaintiff’s request. See Decl. of A.M. Gulas (“Gulas Decl.”), Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1, ECF No. 51-3 ¶ 5. The IRS interpreted Cause of Action’s FOIA request as “seeking records reflecting communications between the IRS FOIA staff, or Chief Counsel, and the White House ...

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