Peeler v. U.S. Department of Justice
"[A]n agency's search may be sufficient under [the Freedom of Information Act] even if it does not uncover every record that a plaintiff believes is relevant and likely to exist in the agency's files," pursuant to Ferguson v. U.S. Department of Education, a 2011 decision of the Southern District of New York. In May 2011, the plaintiff inmate, Russell Peeler, requested documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration concerning phone calls to and from (203) 373-0780 that took place on Jan. 7, 1999. The Drug Enforcement Administration responded that it had received Peeler's request and that because the pertinent records were located in various field offices and there were unusual circumstances, it could not immediately respond. In July 2011, Peeler complained about the delay. In December 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration informed Peeler that it did not possess any pertinent records. Peeler filed a complaint in District Court and an amended complaint, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 United States Code §552. The Department of Justice moved for summary judgment. A senior attorney indicated that a search of the department's various computer databases did not yield any results and that he personally searched the one investigative file, CV99-0008, connected with the phone number and did not find any pertinent phone call records. Peeler objected that the Department of Justice was not diligent, because it did not uncover documents that he already knew about. An agency is expected to conduct a search reasonably designed to identify and to locate responsive documents. It is not expected to take extraordinary steps. The senior attorney's description of the department's search and computer search terms established that the search was reasonably calculated to discover documents responsive to the plaintiff's request. The court granted the Department of Justice's motion for summary judgment.