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Case TitleBAYALA v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2014cv00007
Date Filed2014-01-03
Date Closed2014-11-04
JudgeJudge Rudolph Contreras
PlaintiffFLORENT BAYALA
Case DescriptionBayala, a citizen of Burkina Faso, applied for asylum in the U.S. With the help of a French interpreter, he was interviewed by an asylum officer, who prepared notes of the interview. Bayala submitted a request for the interview notes. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told Bayala it had located 157 records responsive to his request and was withholding some records under four exemptions. USCIS indicated it had referred some documents to the Department of State and others to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Arguing that the agency had not adequately explained its actions, Bayala contended that an administrative appeal would be fruitless. Instead, he filed suit.
Complaint issues: require agency to provide better explanation of its actions, enjoin agency from issuing similar letters in the future, attorney's fees

DefendantUNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY Office of the General Counsel
AppealD.C. Circuit 14-5279
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Complaint attachment 4
Complaint attachment 5
Complaint attachment 6
Complaint attachment 7
Opinion/Order [24]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Rudolph Contreras has ruled that Florent Bayala failed to exhaust his administrative remedies when he filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security after the agency partially denied his request for records concerning his asylum application rather than first filing an administrative appeal. Bayala argued that the agency's cover letter explaining its reasons for denying records was so vague and cryptic that appealing administratively would have been futile. Contreras noted that "Bayala assumes that the 'purposes of exhaustion' would be served only if he could make 'targeted' arguments in an administrative appeal," but pointed out that "he fails to cite any authority for this proposition or to explain why an appeal from DHS's letter, as written would necessarily preclude DHS" from exercising its discretion and expertise or making a factual record supporting its decision. Bayala claimed the agency had failed to provide reasons for its determination. Contreras, however, observed that "the cover letter's 'reasons' were sufficient to require Bayala to file an administrative appeal. The letter explained that DHS decided to withhold certain documents in full because they 'contain no reasonably segregable portions of non-exempt information.' DHS also enumerated FOIA exemptions that it concluded were 'applicable' to withheld information. . .Lastly, DHS explained its reasons for referring certain documents to the Department of State and to ICE�"to enable those agencies to provide a 'direct response' to Bayala." In a footnote he added that "to the extent Bayala contends that FOIA requires of an initial agency response something more than 'reasons' but less than a Vaughn index, this Court discerns no such principle in the statute or case law." Addressing an issue that is currently unsettled after the D.C. Circuit's decision in CREW v. FEC�"whether a plaintiff is still required to file an administrative appeal if the agency responds after the time limit expires but before the plaintiff files suit�"Contreras came down on the side of the status quo, indicating in a footnote that "to be sure, DHS's letter issued after the twenty day response period. . .But this delay did not amount to constructive exhaustion because Bayala waited until after DHS's late response to file his lawsuit."
Issues: Litigation - Jurisdiction - Failure to Exhaust
Opinion/Order [45]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Rudolph Contreras has ruled that FOIA's only remedy for a requester's dissatisfaction with an agency's processing of his or her request is to ask a court to review the agency's actions de novo, which does not include ordering the agency to "re-do" its initial response. Instead of appealing the agency's decision, Florent Bayala filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security after the agency withheld records related to an asylum officer's decision not to grant Bayala asylum. Bayala' primary contention was that the agency's bare bones description of its action was too vague for him to challenge properly. During the litigation, the agency disclosed most of its Assessment to Refer, which it had originally withheld under Exemption 5 (privileges). Contreras found Bayala had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and granted the agency summary judgment. Bayala appealed to the D.C. Circuit, which found that the agency's decision to disclose the Assessment to Refer had superseded its initial decision and that Bayala no longer was required to file an administrative appeal. Instead, the D.C. Circuit remanded the case to Contreras with instructions to resolve any remaining issues concerning the agency's search and exemption claims. But Bayala continued to argue that the agency was required to re-write its initial response and promise not to send such responses to requesters in the future. Contreras found that under the mandate rule, which restricts lower courts to the issues identified by an appellate court, he did not have authority to address Bayala's continued concerns about the agency's original response. Instead, he concluded that "the remedy of de novo review provided for by FOIA and currently available to Mr. Bayala renders immaterial the alleged imperfections of DHS's initial response and the administrative process." He then pointed out that Bayala did not have standing to ask for injunctive future relief. Contreras observed that "where plaintiffs do not allege any possibility that their injury could recur"such as through pending FOIA requests or concrete plans to file additional requests"they lack standing for perspective relief regarding an agency's FOIA practices." Contreras refused to dismiss the case, noting that "the briefing before the court does not discuss the adequacy of DHS's search or the withholdings claimed by DHS. It would therefore be premature for this Court to determine whether the Assessment to Refer contained segregable portions before determining if DHS was correct to withhold any portions of the document." He indicated that he would review the Assessment to Refer in camera and asked Bayala and the agency to provide further briefing on the adequacy of the search and the claimed exemptions.
Issues: Litigation - Jurisdiction - Failure to State a Claim
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2014-01-031COMPLAINT against UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-3581020) filed by Florent Bayala. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit, # 2 Exhibit, # 3 Civil Cover Sheet, # 4 Summons, # 5 Summons, # 6 Summons, # 7 Notice to Counsel/Party)(Cleveland, David) . (Entered: 01/03/2014)
2014-01-032NOTICE of designation of related case by FLORENT BAYALA re 1 Complaint, (Cleveland, David) (Entered: 01/03/2014)
2014-01-03Case Assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson. (md, ) (Entered: 01/03/2014)
2014-01-033ERRATA summons by FLORENT BAYALA 1 Complaint, filed by FLORENT BAYALA. (Attachments: # 1 Summons, # 2 Summons)(Cleveland, David) (Entered: 01/03/2014)
2014-01-064ELECTRONIC SUMMONS (3) ISSUED as to UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachments: # 1 Summons 2nd, # 2 Summons 3rd, # 3 Notice of Consent, # 4 Consent Form)(md, ) (Entered: 01/06/2014)
2014-01-075RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed as to the United States Attorney. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney on 1/6/2014. Answer due for ALL FEDERAL DEFENDANTS by 2/5/2014. (Cleveland, David) (Entered: 01/07/2014)
2014-01-086Case randomly reassigned to Judge Rudolph Contreras. Judge Amy Berman Jackson no longer assigned to the case. (ds) (Entered: 01/08/2014)
2014-01-117RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed on United States Attorney General. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney General 01/10/14. (Cleveland, David) (Entered: 01/11/2014)
2014-01-118RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY served on 1/10/2014 (Cleveland, David) (Entered: 01/11/2014)
2014-02-049First MOTION for Extension of Time to File Defendant's Answer or Other Response to Plaintiff's Complaint by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 02/04/2014)
2014-02-05MINUTE ORDER granting 9 Consent Motion for Extension of Time. Upon consideration of the defendant's consent motion for extension of time, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that the defendant's answer or other responsive pleading is due on or before March 5, 2014. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 2/5/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 02/05/2014)
2014-03-0110MOTION for Extension of Time to File and Answer or Other Response to Plaintiff's Complaint by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 03/01/2014)
2014-03-04MINUTE ORDER granting 10 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to Answer. Upon consideration of defendant's unopposed motion for extension of time, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that the defendant shall file its answer or other responsive pleading on or before March 25, 2014. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 03/04/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 03/04/2014)
2014-03-2411MOTION for Extension of Time to File an Answer or Other Response to Plaintiff's Complaint by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 03/24/2014)
2014-03-24MINUTE ORDER granting 11 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to Answer. Upon consideration of defendant's unopposed motion for extension of time, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that the defendant shall file its answer or other responsive pleading on or before April 4, 2014. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 03/24/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 03/24/2014)
2014-04-0412MOTION for Extension of Time to File an Answer or Other Response to Plaintiff's Complaint by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 04/04/2014)
2014-04-04MINUTE ORDER granting 12 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to Answer. Upon consideration of defendant's unopposed motion for extension of time, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that the defendant shall file its answer or other responsive pleading on or before April 15, 2014. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 04/04/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 04/04/2014)
2014-04-07Reset Deadlines: Answer due by 4/15/2014, (tj ) (Entered: 04/07/2014)
2014-04-1513Final MOTION for Extension of Time to File Defendant's Answer or other Response to Plaintiff's Complaint by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 04/15/2014)
2014-04-16MINUTE ORDER granting 13 Motion for Extension of Time to Answer. Upon consideration of defendant's unopposed motion for extension of time, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion, nunc pro tunc , is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that the defendant shall file its answer or other responsive pleading on or before April 17, 2014. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 04/16/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 04/16/2014)
2014-04-1714MOTION for Summary Judgment by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Facts, # 2 Exhibit, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 04/17/2014)
2014-04-2315NOTICE by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY re 14 MOTION for Summary Judgment (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, Attachment 5)(Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 04/23/2014)
2014-05-0216Memorandum in opposition to re 14 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by FLORENT BAYALA. (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Facts, # 2 Exhibit, # 3 Exhibit, # 4 Exhibit, # 5 Exhibit, # 6 Text of Proposed Order)(Cleveland, David) (Entered: 05/02/2014)
2014-05-1417REPLY to opposition to motion re 14 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 05/14/2014)
2014-07-0718MOTION for Summary Judgment by FLORENT BAYALA (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order, # 2 Statement of Facts)(Cleveland, David) (Entered: 07/07/2014)
2014-07-2419Memorandum in opposition to re 18 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Facts (counter))(Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 07/24/2014)
2014-07-3020REPLY to opposition to motion re 18 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by FLORENT BAYALA. (Cleveland, David) (Entered: 07/30/2014)
2014-10-0621MOTION for Leave to File Supplemental Memorandum by FLORENT BAYALA (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order, # 2 Supplement, # 3 Declaration, # 4 Declaration)(Cleveland, David) (Entered: 10/06/2014)
2014-10-07MINUTE ORDER granting 21 Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Memorandum in Support of His Motion for Summary Judgment. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 10/07/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 10/07/2014)
2014-10-0722SUPPLEMENTAL MEMORANDUM to re 18 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by FLORENT BAYALA. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Declaration of David Cleveland, # 2 Exhibit Declaration of David Cleveland)(Cleveland, David) (Entered: 10/07/2014)
2014-10-2423RESPONSE re 22 Supplemental Memorandum filed by UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. (Adebonojo, Kenneth) (Entered: 10/24/2014)
2014-11-0424MEMORANDUM & ORDER granting 14 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment; and denying 18 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. It is hereby ORDERED that Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed without prejudice. See document for details. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 11/04/2014. (lcrc1) (Entered: 11/04/2014)
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by FOIA Project Staff