Wallick v. Agricultural Marketing Service

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA RICHARD S. WALLICK, : : Plaintiff, : Civil Action No.: 16-2063 (RC) : v. : Re Document No.: 13, 15 : AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE, : : Defendant. : MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF’S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT I. INTRODUCTION This case stems from a Freedom of Information Act request for documents pertaining to the Organic Materials Review Institute’s application for accreditation as a Material Review Organization, which empowers it to review and certify materials as compliant with federal organic regulations. The central issues presented in this case are the adequacy and scope of the agency’s search for the documents requested and the propriety of the redaction of a single sentence pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5). Defendant Agricultural Marketing Services, a component of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the agency tasked with certifying1 groups as Material Review Organizations, has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that its search in response to the FOIA request at issue was reasonable and adequate 1 While the regulations regarding this process refer to such organizations as being “accredited” to certify products as organic, see 7 C.F.R. § 205.501, the parties in this case refer to the process as “certification” to certify products as organic. The Court adopts the parties’ terminology for the purposes of this Memorandum Opinion. and its redaction pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) was proper. Plaintiff Richard Wallick has cross-moved for summary judgment, asking the Court to find Defendant’s search inadequate and its redaction insufficiently supported. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff’s cross-motion. II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND On February 25, 2016, Plaintiff Richard Wallick, through his attorney David Stotter, submitted a FOIA request by email to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The request sought: 1. The complete application submitted by the Organic Materials Review Commission (OMRI) for that organization to produce technical reports for the NOSB’s ISO 65 program, including any attachments filed with, or in support of, this OMRI application, as well as copies of all documents for the USDA AMS’s review of that application, and all documents for the USDA AMS’s decision approving this application, including any communications within USDA AMS, and any communications with other subdivisions of USDA, and any communications between USDA AMS and OMRI regarding the above referenced application. 2. All documents in the possession or control of AMS for any follow-up action pertaining to the review and/or approval of the application described in item 1 above, or discussing the USDA’s process for the application described in item 1 in the paragraph above. Ex. 1, ECF No. 13-1 at 10–11. The time frame for the records he sought was January 1, 2007 to February 25, 2016. ...

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