United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
WILLIAM J. BUSH, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, RISK MANAGEMENT AGENCY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court pursuant to defendant's
summary judgment motion. (Doc. 20). Plaintiff filed a timely
resistance. (Doc. 26). The Court heard oral argument on July
20, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants
defendant's motion for summary judgment.
November 16, 2016, pro se plaintiff, William J. Bush, filed
this action against the Risk Management Agency (RMA), an
agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),
pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking
the disclosure of soybean and corn yields within four
townships in Cherokee County, Iowa, as well as other relief
involving attorney fees and litigation costs and intra-agency
disciplinary action. (Doc. 1).
December 5, 2016, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc.
3). On June 8, 2017, the Court denied plaintiff's pro se
motions and defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 25). The
Court found summary judgment was the most appropriate vehicle
to assess the issues raised by defendant in its motion to
dismiss. Plaintiff was ordered to file a response to
defendant's summary judgment motion by June 22. Plaintiff
timely resisted the motion. (Doc. 26). Subsequently,
defendant filed a timely reply. (Doc. 27). The summary
judgment motion is now ripe.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS
FOIA-based lawsuits are best handled on summary judgment.
See, e.g., Def. of Wildlife v. U.S.
Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D. D.C. 2009)
(“FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on
motions for summary judgment.”) (citing Bigwood v.
U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., 484 F.Supp.2d 68, 73 (D.
D.C. 2007); Farrugia v. Exec. Office for U.S.
Att'ys, No. Civ.A. 04-0294 PLF, 2006 WL 335771, at
*3 (D. D.C. Feb. 14, 2006)); Judicial Watch, Inc. v.
Export-Import Bank, 108 F.Supp.2d 19, 25 (D. D.C. 2000)
(“FOIA litigation is typically adjudicated through
summary judgment.”). Summary judgment is appropriate
when the movant shows that “there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)
(2016). A movant must cite to “particular parts of
materials in the record, including depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c);
see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986). A fact is “material” if it “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (citation omitted). “An issue of
material fact is genuine if it has a real basis in the
record[, ]” Hartnagel v. Norman, 953 F.2d 394,
395 (8th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted), or “when a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party on the question[, ]” Wood v. DaimlerChrysler
Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Evidence that presents
only “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,
” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), or evidence that is
“merely colorable” or “not significantly
probative, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50,
does not make an issue of fact genuine. In sum, a genuine
issue of material fact requires “sufficient evidence
supporting the claimed factual dispute” that it
“require[s] a jury or judge to resolve the parties'
differing versions of the truth at trial.”
(Id. at 248-49 (internal quotation marks and
party moving for summary judgment bears “the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion and identifying those portions of the record
which show a lack of a genuine issue.”
Hartnagel, 953 F.2d at 395. Once the moving party
has met this burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the
pleadings and by depositions, affidavits, or other evidence
designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial. Mosley v. City of Northwoods, Mo.,
415 F.3d 908, 910 (8th Cir. 2005).
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
courts must view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party, giving that party the benefit of all
reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the facts.
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88 (citation omitted);
see also Reed v. City of St. Charles, Mo., 561 F.3d
788, 790 (8th Cir. 2009) (stating that in ruling on a motion
for summary judgment, a court must view the facts “in a
light most favorable to the non-moving party-as long as those
facts are not so ‘blatantly contradicted by the record
. . . that no reasonable jury could believe'
them.”) (alteration in original) (quoting Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). A court does
“not weigh the evidence or attempt to determine the
credibility of the witnesses.” Kammueller v.
Loomis, Fargo & Co., 383 F.3d 779, 784 (8th Cir.
2004) (citation omitted). Rather, a “court's
function is to determine whether a dispute about a material
fact is genuine.” Quick v. Donaldson Co.,
Inc., 90 F.3d 1372, 1376-77 (8th Cir. 1996).
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:
In a FOIA case, summary judgment is available to a defendant
agency where “the agency proves that it has fully
discharged its obligations under FOIA, after the underlying
facts and the inferences to be drawn from them are construed
in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester.”
Miller v. U.S. Dep't of State, 779 F.2d 1378,
1382 (8th Cir. 1985) (citing Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't
of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983)).
Mo. Coal. for Env't Found. v. U.S. Army Corps of
Eng'rs, 542 F.3d 1204, 1209 (8th Cir. 2008). See
also Twist v. Gonzales, 171 Fed.Appx. 855, 855 (D.C.
Cir. 2005) (“The factual question . . . is whether the
search was reasonably calculated to discover the requested
documents, . . .” (first alteration in original)). A
District Court may grant summary judgment for the government
“based solely on the information provided in affidavits
or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe
‘the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably
specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld
logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not
controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by
evidence of agency bad faith.'” Fischer v. U.S.
Dep't of Justice, 596 F.Supp.2d 34, 42 (D. D.C.
2009) (quoting Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656
F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).
agency has the burden to prove that each requested record is
either: unidentifiable, produced, or exempt from FOIA.
Miller, 779 F.2d at 1382-83. To oppose a summary
judgment motion, the non-moving party “cannot simply
rest upon conclusory statements, but must instead set forth
affirmative evidence showing a genuine issue for
trial.” Physicians for Human Rights v. U.S.
Dep't of Defense, 675 F.Supp.2d 149, 156 (D. D.C.
2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A
district court reviews the agency's denial of the FOIA
request de novo. Fischer, 596 F.Supp.2d at 42.