Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cochran v. Department of Homeland Security DHS

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 27, 2019

TERRY COCHRAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY DHS, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY FEMA Defendant,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Terry Cochran, the self-represented plaintiff, sued her former employer, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA"), under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 522(a). ECF 1 (the "Complaint").[1] In the suit, she seeks to obtain compliance with her FOIA request of December 4, 2017, requesting "all documents pertaining to her security clearance." ECF 1 at 5. According to plaintiff, FEMA did not satisfy the FOIA request, and therefore she also requests costs and legal fees associated with enforcement. ECF 1 at 6.[2]

         FEMA has moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (ECF 7), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 7-1) (collectively, the "Motion") and exhibits. ECF 7-3 to ECF 7-7; ECF 8-1. FEMA contends that by March 1, 2018, it "provided Plaintiff with all documents responsive to her request." ECF 7-1 at 1. Therefore, FEMA maintains that the Complaint is now moot, and dismissal is required. ECF 7-1 at 5-7.

         After FEMA filed the Motion, plaintiff retained counsel. And, on May 6, 2018, she submitted a modified FOIA request. In addition to what was previously sought on March 4, 2018, she requested the following: "(1) Plaintiffs emails with Patricia Sandlin, Human Resources Specialist, in January 2013; (2) Any and all emails stating her security clearance had been closed; (3) Any and all letters advising Plaintiff that her security clearance had been closed." ECF 17-2 at 4.

         Plaintiff opposes the Motion (ECF 17), with exhibits (ECF 17-2). She asserts that "FEMA has produced no documents responsive to the third item" of her modified request. ECF 17 at 1.

         FEMA has replied (ECF 22, the "Reply"), supported by numerous exhibits. ECF 22-2; ECF 23-1 to ECF 23-13. As to the third item of plaintiff s modified request, FEMA argues that "no additional records exist." ECF 22 at 4. Therefore, it contends that dismissal is appropriate.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve this Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall construe FEMA's Motion (ECF 7) as one for summary judgment, and I shall grant it.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was previously employed as the "Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency." ECF 17-2 at 6; ECF 17-2 (Affidavit of Plaintiff), ¶ 2. Her "area of expertise" was in the FOIA/Privacy Act "arena." Id.

         On Sunday, June 12, 2016, Cochran sent an email to her supervisor, Eric Leckey, FEMA's Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, resigning from her position. ECF 17-2 at 6. A few days later, on June 17, 2016, Leckey sent an email to FEMA employee Manuel de Guzman regarding Cochran's resignation and security clearance, stating, id.:

An OCAO [Office of the Chief Adminsitrative Officer] employee, Terry Cochran, abruptly resigned on Sunday evening. Her resignation is below. I've been unsuccessful in getting her to return to check out, return her accountable property, get out briefed from her clearance, and return her badge. She was supposed to return to go through this process this morning at 9:30 a.m. but she was a no call/no show.
I want to make sure her badge is deactivated and clearance is no longer active with FEMA. I'd appreciate your advice and counsel with the other stuff.

         Cochran electronically submitted a FOIA request to FEMA on December 4, 2017, seeking "all documents pertaining to her security clearance." ECF 1 at 5. On December 5, 2017, FOIA Program Specialist Kevin W. Hill sent a letter to plaintiff (ECF 1-2), acknowledging receipt of her request and assigning a FEMA reference number, 2018-FEFO-00264. Id. at 2. The letter indicated that it is the agency's "goal to respond within 20 business days of receipt of [a] request." Id. However, FEMA "invoke[d] ¶ 10-day extension" as to plaintiffs request, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(B), because her request would "require a thorough and wide-ranging search." ECF 1-2 at 2. Accordingly, the agency's response was due on or before January 18, 2018. Id.

         Plaintiff filed suit on January 22, 2018, alleging that FEMA failed to provide the responsive documents by the deadline of January 18, 2018. ECF 1 at 5. On March 1, 2018, FEMA produced 19 pages of documents pertaining to plaintiffs security clearance. ECF 7-5 (FEMA final report); ECF 17-2, ¶ 3 (Cockran Affidavit); ECF 7-7 ("Neuschaefer Declaration"), ¶ 22; ECF 23-4. Aside from a few minor redactions, the records were released to plaintiff in their entirety. ECF 7-7, ¶ 22.

         Upon receipt, plaintiff notified FEMA that she was unable to access the documents using the password provided by FEMA. Id. ¶ 23. Therefore, on March 8, 2018, FEMA mailed a CD to plaintiff containing the responsive records. Id[3]

         After FEMA filed its Motion, plaintiff submitted a list of documents responsive to her FOIA request that she claimed FEMA had failed to produce. ECF 17-2, ¶ 3. In an email of May 6, 2018 (ECF 17-2 at 4), plaintiffs counsel advised FEMA that it had failed to produce three sets of documents: "(1) Plaintiffs emails with Patricia Sandlin, Human Resources Specialist, in January 2013; (2) Any and all emails stating her security clearance had been closed; and (3) Any and all letters advising Plaintiff that her security clearance had been closed."

         Pursuant to Cochran's modified request, FEMA performed additional searches. ECF 22-2 ("Neuschaefer Supplemental Declaration"), ¶ 23. Specifically, FEMA "retasked" the Office of the Chief Security Officer, and "tasked" the Office of Chief Component Human Capital Office ("OCCHCO") and the Office of the Chief Information Officer ("OCIO") with "conducting a search for responsive records." Id.; see ECF 23-6. Thirty-seven pages of documents were produced to plaintiff in June 2018. ECF 22-2, ¶¶ 26, 28, 29, 30. See also ECF 23-7; ECF 23-9; ECF 23-10; ECF 23-11. And, on June 29, 2018, FEMA advised plaintiff that no records exist as to Item 3. ECF 22-2, ¶ 34; ECF 23-13. This assertion followed verification provided by Anthony Clark, Supervisor, Federal Adjudication Branch, OCSC, to Ruthann Parise, Government Information Specialist, Disclosure Branch, Information Management Division, OCAO, representing that when a FEMA employee terminates employment, her security badge and her security clearance are deactivated. ECF 22-2, ¶ 33; ECF 23-12.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

         II. Standard of Review

         As noted, FEMA has moved to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. ECF 15. In support of the Motion, defendant contends: "Plaintiffs Complaint is now moot because FEMA has produced all documents responsive to Plaintiffs FOIA request." ECF 7-1 at 5.

         FEMA is correct that a claim for relief is moot once an agency produces the requested information. See, e.g., Cornucopia Institute v. USDA, 560 F.3d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 2009); Shortall v. Baltimore Dist. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Civil No. WMN-14-3904, 2015 WL 3545259, at *4 (D. Md. June 4, 2015) (stating that the controversy in the complaint that "'Defendants fail[ed] to produce documents' fell away when the Corps produced documents.").

         However, I cannot conclude that FEMA has complied with FOIA merely because it says so. Therefore, I will address the Motion based on Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, because this will enable me to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.