Vaskas v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA THADDEUS VASKAS, Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 21-1447 (TSC) U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, has sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). See Am. Compl., ECF No. 3. He claims Defendants unlawfully withheld records he requested under FOIA regarding their involvement in his federal criminal conviction. Id. ¶¶ 2, 4. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 12. For the reasons set forth below, the court will GRANT Defendants’ motion. I. BACKGROUND In July 2020, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to DHS, seeking information regarding its “involvement in [his] federal conviction in United States v[.] Thaddeus Vaskas, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Crim Case No. 12-128.” Compl. ¶ 4; see United States v. Vaskas, No. CR 12-128, 2016 WL 1273921 at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2016) (noting that Plaintiff was convicted of one count of possession of child pornography and sentenced to 168 months of incarceration followed by fifteen years of supervised release), aff’d, 696 F. App’x 564 (3d Cir. 2017). He narrowed that request after DHS asked him to be “more specific and detailed.” Page 1 of 8 Compl. ¶ 5. Upon “learning that neither of the Defendants” were “working toward fulfilling [his] FOIA request, Plaintiff filed an “Administrative Appeal” and was informed that his request was “in the queue to be processed by an analyst.” Id. ¶ 6. He now seeks a declaration that Defendants violated FOIA by failing to produce records responsive to his request, and an order that they do so immediately. Id. at 4. By sworn declaration, Defendants state that upon receiving the request, they “conducted a manual search for physical files and an electronic search for records” on computer hard drives and email folders. Declaration of Lynnea Schurkamp ¶¶ 26–27, ECF No. 12-3 (“Schurkamp Decl.”). The search identified 537 pages of potentially responsive records, of which Defendants produced 389 pages, subject to withholdings pursuant to FOIA Exemptions (b)(3), (b)(5), (b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(E).” Id. ¶¶ 28, 30; see also Vaughn Index, ECF No. 12-4. In moving for summary judgment, Defendants contend that their search was adequate, that they properly invoked FOIA exemptions for withholding certain responsive records, and that they complied with FOIA’s segregability requirement. See Memo. in Support of Defs.’ Mot. for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 12-2. II. LEGAL STANDARD In FOIA litigation, as in all civil cases, summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings and declarations demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “FOIA provides a ‘statutory right of public access to documents and records’ held by federal government agencies.” Citizens for Resp. & Ethics in Wash. v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 602 F. Supp. …

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