United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
WILLIAM J. BUSH, Plaintiff,
RISK MANAGEMENT AGENCY/UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Defendant.
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court is (1) plaintiff's Rule 12(c) motion
(Doc. 19); (2) defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion, or in
the alternative, for summary judgment (Doc. 20); and (3)
plaintiff's motion for a Rule 56(d) continuance to
conduct limited discovery and extend deadlines. (Doc. 22).
Neither party has requested oral argument and the Court finds
argument unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, the Court
denies plaintiff's motions and denies in part and grants
in part defendant's motion. Only the summary judgment
motion remains pending.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTS
February 2016, plaintiff William J. Bush, filed a Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) request with the Risk Management
Agency (RMA). Plaintiff asked for “the total
production, acres harvested, and yield for corn and for
soybeans aggregated by section for Amherst, Rock, Sheridan
and Tilden townships in Cherokee County, Iowa for 2015, 2014,
2013 and 2012.” The agency provided a “no
records” response to plaintiff's request. The
agency explained that it did not have information available
by sections for townships within a county. The agency
also explained that the Federal Crop Insurance Act prohibits
the disclosure of identifying producer information and limits
disclosure of producer information to the public only in the
aggregate form. The agency also directed plaintiff to
a page on its website containing several data files.
Specifically, RMA's FOIA Officer directed plaintiff to
“cy2016productionareayieldhistory1130.zip” for an
average yield of soybeans and corn. (Doc. 1, at 25). Upon the
Court's own review, this zip file contains historical
aggregate yields for the production area of Cherokee County,
Iowa, for irrigated and non-irrigated soybeans (from crop
years 1991 to 2014) and for irrigated and non-irrigated corn
(from crop years 1991 to 2014). Plaintiff appealed the
agency's response. The agency upheld its “no
records” response on appeal.
November 16, 2016, plaintiff filed this action in this Court.
As a pro se litigant, plaintiff sued “United States
Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency” in
his original complaint. (Doc. 1). The original complaint
referred to a singular defendant. A few weeks later, in a pro
se amended complaint, plaintiff sued the “Risk
Management Agency” and the “United States
Department of Agriculture” and referred to plural
defendants. (Doc. 3). In February 2017, plaintiff filed a
motion for default judgment against the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failure to respond to
the amended complaint. (Doc. 12). The same month, this Court
entered an order denying plaintiff's motion for default
judgment against the USDA. (Doc. 14). The Court found that
plaintiff failed to provide evidence demonstrating that the
Risk Management Agency (RMA) and the USDA are
“legally-distinct” as the RMA's answer (Doc.
11 at 2, ¶ 5) states “RMA is an agency within the
United States Department of Agriculture, an agency within the
meaning of FOIA.” The Court reasoned that “[e]ven
assuming RMA and USDA are distinct entities, I find that
RMA's answer should be deemed to apply equally to USDA,
” and therefore found default judgment against USDA
inappropriate. (Doc. 14). This distinction, if any even
exists, of whether the USDA and the RMA are one in the same
or distinct legal entities does not impact this order. The
Court will refer to RMA/USDA as a singular defendant
throughout this order.
seeks the following relief (Doc. 3 at 18-19, ¶42): that
the records at a section for township level be produced to
him with a waiver of the search fee; declare Section 1619 of
the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 inapplicable;
award of attorney's fees and other litigation costs;
declare the attorney's fee FOIA provision at Section
522(a)(4)(E) unconstitutional as to pro se non-attorney
litigants; issue a written finding under Section
552(a)(4)(F)(i) that circumstances surrounding the improper
record withholding raise questions about whether agency
personnel acted arbitrary or capricious, prompting
administrative investigation and further administrative
corrective actions as needed; and grant any other relief the
Court deems proper.
maintains it did not improperly withhold agency records.
Defendant first argues that the information sought by
plaintiff does not exist as requested and as such the FOIA
does not impose a duty on the agency to create new records to
comply with FOIA requests. In the alternate, defendant
contends that even if such information existed, or were
produced in part, it would be exempt under Exemption 3 of the
District Court has federal jurisdiction over FOIA actions,
when it is “in the district in which the complainant
resides, or has his principal place of business, or in which
the agency records are situated, or in the District of
Columbia, ” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), and the
District Court has the power to “enjoin the agency from
withholding agency records and to order the production of any
agency records improperly withheld from the
complainant.” (Id.). Neither party disputes
the Court's jurisdiction.
Motion for Judgment on the pleadings and Motion to
dismiss for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted
timely moved for judgment on the pleadings, Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(c), on May 4, 2017, after an answer was filed. (Doc. 19).
Defendant timely resisted (Doc. 21) and cited to its
previously filed 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, or in the
alternative, summary judgment. (Doc. 20). Thus,
plaintiff's 12(c) motion is ripe.
timely moved for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, or in the
alternative, summary judgment (Doc. 20) on May 8, 2017. (the
last day to file dispositive motions). On May 23, 2017,
plaintiff filed a motion under Rule 56(d) seeking to conduct
limited discovery to oppose defendant's summary judgment
motion. (Doc. 22).
most appropriate vehicle to address plaintiff's FOIA
lawsuit is the pending summary judgment motion. The other two
pending motions-namely plaintiff's motion for judgment on
the pleadings and defendant's motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted-would not allow the Court to consider the
agency's affidavit, attached to defendant's motion at
Doc. 20. If the Court did consider the affidavit, then the
Rule 12 motions would, nonetheless, be automatically
converted into summary judgment motions. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(d) (Rules 12(c) and 12(b)(6) motions will be
treated as motions for summary judgment if the court is
presented with matters outside the pleadings and does not
exclude them). On point “FOIA litigation is typically
adjudicated through summary judgment.” Judicial
Watch, Inc. v. Export-Import Bank, 180 F.Supp.2d 19, 25
(D.C. Cir. 2000). See Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S.
Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.C. Cir. 2009)
(“FOIA cases typically and appropriately are ...