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Case TitleLEOPOLD v. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2014cv00168
Date Filed2014-02-04
Date ClosedOpen
JudgeJudge Amit P. Mehta
PlaintiffJASON LEOPOLD
Case DescriptionJason Leopold, a reporter, submitted a request to the Department of Justice for any communications between the agency and members of Congress or members of the Obama administration concerning the legal rationale for lethal drone strikes. He also asked for expedited processing and a fee waiver. The agency acknowledged his request and granted him expedited processing. The agency also sent him a White Paper prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel concerning the legality of lethal drone strikes. After hearing nothing further from the agency, Leopold filed suit.
Complaint issues: improper withholding, disclosure of non-exempt records, fee waiver, attorney's fees

DefendantDEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
AppealD.C. Circuit 15-5281
AppealD.C. Circuit 16-5237
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Opinion/Order [27]
FOIA Project Annotation: While largely agreeing with other courts that have found that redactions made to a DOJ White Paper containing the Justice Department's legal analysis supporting targeted drone killings of U.S. citizens are appropriate under Exemption 1 (national security), Judge Amit Mehta has ruled that the agency improperly limited its search for records concerning the Obama administration by interpreting that phrase as being limited to the White House and not other cabinet offices. Journalist Jason Leopold requested the White Paper and any related records provided to Congress. DOJ provided a copy of the White Paper and a more detailed analysis contained in another leaked memo. Unsatisfied with those disclosures, Leopold filed suit, arguing the agency's search was inadequate. Leopold contended that OIP had failed to indicate that someone in the Office of the Attorney General might have responsive records. OIP provided another affidavit correcting the error. But Mehta declined to find that error was evidence of bad faith on the part of the agency. He noted that "although the declaration contained errors, those errors are not indicative of bad faith. Mistakes alone do not imply bad faith. The Supplemental Declaration addresses, to the court's satisfaction, the discrepancies between OIP's internal records and the initial declaration. It acknowledges the errors made, explains why the internal records provide an incomplete picture of OIP's process, and offers additional details regarding the search." In its attempt to narrow the scope of a potential search, OIP interpreted Leopold's reference to the Obama administration as limited to the White House. Leopold argued this interpretation improperly narrowed the appropriate search. Mehta agreed, noting that "the natural meaning of the term 'administration' when referring to a U.S. President's administration, encompasses more than officials in the Executive Office of the President. At a minimum, it includes other high-level cabinet and agency officials." Mehta observed that "DOJ, of course, was not required to search for communications with every conceivable agency and person in the 'Obama administration' in order to sufficiently respond to Plaintiff's request. It was reasonable for the agency to use email domains to narrow the number of possible recipients of relevant communications. But the narrowing of possible recipients should have taken into account the subject matter and the executive branch stakeholders who were likely involved." He added that "further, if DOJ was at all uncertain about the scope of Plaintiff's request, it could have asked him what he meant by 'Obama administration,' which it did not do." Noting the existence of other decisions pertaining to the White Paper, Mehta pointed out that "this court has an independent obligation to conduct its own de novo review of the agency's decision to withhold information, taking into account Plaintiff's specific claims and the record before the court. To that end, the court ordered DOJ to produce an unredacted version of the White Paper for in camera review." After reviewing the White Paper in camera, Mehta agreed that the government's claims under Exemption 1 and Exemption 3 (other statutes) were appropriate.
Issues: Search - Reasonableness of search
Opinion/Order [40]
Opinion/Order [44]
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2014-02-041COMPLAINT against DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-3611645) filed by JASON LEOPOLD. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Summons USAO, # 3 Summons USDOJ)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 02/04/2014)
2014-02-042AMENDED COMPLAINT against DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE filed by JASON LEOPOLD.(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 02/04/2014)
2014-02-04Case Assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson. (sth, ) (Entered: 02/04/2014)
2014-02-043ELECTRONIC SUMMONS (2)Issued as to U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachments: # 1 Summons, # 2 Summons)(sth, ) (Entered: 02/04/2014)
2014-02-054RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed as to the United States Attorney. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney on 2/5/2014. ( Answer due for ALL FEDERAL DEFENDANTS by 3/7/2014.), RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed on United States Attorney General. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney General 2/5/2014. (Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 02/05/2014)
2014-02-075NOTICE of Appearance by Amy E. Powell on behalf of All Defendants (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 02/07/2014)
2014-03-076ANSWER to 2 Amended Complaint by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. Related document: 2 Amended Complaint filed by JASON LEOPOLD.(Powell, Amy) (Entered: 03/07/2014)
2014-03-107ORDER that defendant file on or before 4/7/14 a dispositive motion or, in the alternative, a report setting forth the schedule for document production to plaintiff. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 3/10/14. (DMK) (Entered: 03/10/2014)
2014-03-10Set/Reset Deadlines: Defendant to file either a dispositive motion or, in the alternative, a report setting forth the schedule for document production to plaintiff by 4/7/2014. (jth) (Entered: 03/10/2014)
2014-04-078STATUS REPORT and proposed schedule (unopposed) by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 04/07/2014)
2014-04-08MINUTE ORDER that defendant shall submit a further status report and proposed schedule for completion of processing and briefing (if any) on or before May 21, 2014. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 4/8/2014. (lcabj3) (Entered: 04/08/2014)
2014-04-09Set/Reset Deadlines: Defendant's Status Report and Proposed Schedule for Completion of Processing and Briefing (if any) is due by 5/21/2014. (jth) (Entered: 04/09/2014)
2014-05-219STATUS REPORT and proposed schedule by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 05/21/2014)
2014-05-21MINUTE ORDER. In light of 9 the parties' joint status report and proposed schedule, it is ORDERED that defendant will complete processing of plaintiff's request and produce any additional, non-exempt material on or before August 22, 2014. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parties will submit a schedule for further proceedings, if necessary, on or before September 5, 2014. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 5/21/2014. (lcabj3) (Entered: 05/21/2014)
2014-05-22Set/Reset Deadlines: The parties are to submit a schedule for further proceedings, if necessary, by 9/5/2014. (jth) (Entered: 05/22/2014)
2014-06-11Case reassigned to Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. Judge Amy Berman Jackson no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr, ) (Entered: 06/11/2014)
2014-08-2110Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to Complete Document Processing and File Status Report by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 08/21/2014)
2014-08-22MINUTE ORDER: Granting 10 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time; Set/Reset Deadlines: Jointly Proposed Schedule for Further Proceedings due by 9/19/2014. Status Report due by 9/19/2014. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 8/22/14. (DJS) (Entered: 08/22/2014)
2014-09-1911STATUS REPORT and Proposed Scheduling Order by JASON LEOPOLD. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 09/19/2014)
2014-09-22MINUTE ORDER: Having considered the parties' status report, it is hereby ordered that the parties shall comply with the following deadlines: Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting material shall be filed by October 22, 2014: Plaintiff's opposition to the motion for summary judgment and any cross motion due by November 12, 2014; Defendant's reply/opposition by December 5, 2014; Plaintiff's reply memorandum in support of any cross motion by December 19, 2014. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 9/22/14. (DJS) Modified on 9/23/2014 (DJS, ). (Entered: 09/22/2014)
2014-09-23Set/Reset Deadlines: Summary Judgment motion due by 10/22/2014. Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment due by 11/12/2014. Defendant's reply to the Opposition due by December 5, 2014. Plaintiff's reply memorandum in support of any cross motion due by December 19, 2014. (sm) (Entered: 09/23/2014)
2014-09-23Set/Reset Deadlines: Cross Motions due by 11/12/2014. Response to Cross Motions due by 12/5/2014. (sm) (Entered: 09/23/2014)
2014-10-2212NOTICE of Classified Lodging by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 10/22/2014)
2014-10-2213MOTION for Summary Judgment by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Vanessa R. Brinkmann, # 2 Exhibit Exhibits A-D to the Brinkmann Declaration, # 3 Exhibit E-F to the Brinkmann Declaration, # 4 Declaration of Martha M. Lutz)(Powell, Amy) (Entered: 10/22/2014)
2014-11-1014NOTICE of Appearance by Stephen McCoy Elliott on behalf of DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 11/10/2014)
2014-11-1215Cross MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment by JASON LEOPOLD (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1 - Memos to Leadership Offices, # 2 Exhibit 2 - Custodians' Responses, # 3 Exhibit 3 - Processing Notes, # 4 Exhibit 4 - Memo from ODAG to OIP, # 5 Exhibit 5 - Routing and Transmittal Slip, # 6 Declaration Jason Leopold, # 7 Statement of Facts, # 8 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 11/12/2014)
2014-11-1216Memorandum in opposition to re 13 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by JASON LEOPOLD. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1 - Letter from Attorney General, # 2 Exhibit 2 - Transcript of Obama's speech at National Defense University, # 3 Exhibit 3 - Clapper Declaration, # 4 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 11/12/2014)
2014-11-26Case randomly reassigned to Judge Randolph D. Moss. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan no longer assigned to the case. (gt, ) (Entered: 11/26/2014)
2014-12-0517REPLY to opposition to motion re 13 MOTION for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Supplemental Declaration of Vanessa R. Brinkmann, # 2 Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Facts, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 12/05/2014)
2014-12-0518Memorandum in opposition to re 15 Cross MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (See docket entry 17 to view document)(rdj) (Entered: 12/08/2014)
2014-12-08NOTICE OF ERROR re 17 Reply to opposition to Motion; emailed to stephen.elliott@usdoj.gov, cc'd 3 associated attorneys -- The PDF file you docketed contained errors: 1. Two-part docket entry, 2. Counsel IS REMINDED to DOCKET the opposition as a separate entry. NO ACTION REQUIRED (zrdj, ) (Entered: 12/08/2014)
2014-12-1919Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 15 Cross MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment by JASON LEOPOLD (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 12/19/2014)
2014-12-2620REPLY to opposition to motion re 15 Cross MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by JASON LEOPOLD. (Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 12/26/2014)
2014-12-3021Unopposed MOTION for Leave to File Sur-Reply by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Sur-Reply in Response to Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum, # 2 Text of Proposed Order)(Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 12/30/2014)
2015-01-0522Case reassigned to Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. Judge Randolph D. Moss no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr, ) (Entered: 01/05/2015)
2015-01-08Case randomly reassigned to Judge Amit P. Mehta. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr, ) (Entered: 01/08/2015)
2015-02-04MINUTE ORDER granting, nunc pro tunc to December 19, 2014, 19 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply. Plaintiff's 20 Reply to Opposition that was filed on December 26, 2014 shall be considered timely. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 02/04/2015. (lcapm1) (Entered: 02/04/2015)
2015-02-04MINUTE ORDER granting 21 Unopposed Motion for Leave to File Sur-Reply. The Clerk's Office is directed to docket Attachment 1 as Defendant's Sur-Reply. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 02/04/2015. (lcapm1) (Entered: 02/04/2015)
2015-02-0423SURREPLY to re 15 Cross MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (rdj) (Entered: 02/10/2015)
2015-07-2124ORDER. On or before July 27, 2015, Defendant shall make available to the court for in camera inspection an unredacted version of the White Paper, a redacted version of which was filed with the court as ECF No. 13-3, pages 19-40. Please see the attached Order for additional details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 07/21/2015. (lcapm2) (Entered: 07/21/2015)
2015-07-2225NOTICE OF SUPPLEMENTAL AUTHORITY by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A - ACLU v. CIA (DDC), # 2 Exhibit B - ACLU v. DOJ (SDNY))(Powell, Amy) (Entered: 07/22/2015)
2015-07-2426NOTICE of Classified Lodging by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 07/24/2015)
2015-08-1227MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 13 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and 15 Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. See attached Memorandum Opinion and Order for further details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 08/12/2015. (Entered: 08/12/2015)
2015-09-1128Joint STATUS REPORT by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 09/11/2015)
2015-09-14MINUTE ORDER: The parties shall file another Joint Status Report on or before September 21, 2015, describing additional steps that DOJ has taken to comply with the court's order of August 12, 2015, including (1) whether new searches have identified responsive documents, and (2) if so, a proposed date by which DOJ will finish processing the new records. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 09/14/2015. (lcapm1) (Entered: 09/14/2015)
2015-09-1429NOTICE of Classified Lodging by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 09/14/2015)
2015-09-1430MOTION for Reconsideration by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Memorandum in Support, # 2 Text of Proposed Order)(Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 09/14/2015)
2015-09-14Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Joint Status Report due by 9/21/2015. (cdw) (Entered: 09/17/2015)
2015-09-2131Joint STATUS REPORT by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 09/21/2015)
2015-10-0132Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 30 MOTION for Reconsideration by JASON LEOPOLD (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 10/01/2015)
2015-10-02MINUTE ORDER granting 32 Consent Motion for Extension of Time. It is further ordered that Plaintiff's Opposition to 30 Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration is due on or before October 22, 2015. No further extensions will be granted absent extraordinary circumstances. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 10/02/2015. (lcapm1) (Entered: 10/02/2015)
2015-10-02Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Response to 30 due by 10/22/2015. (cdw) (Entered: 10/02/2015)
2015-10-0833NOTICE OF APPEAL TO DC CIRCUIT COURT re 27 by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. Fee Status: No Fee Paid. Parties have been notified. (Elliott, Stephen) Modified on 10/9/2015 to add linkage (zrdj). (Entered: 10/08/2015)
2015-10-0934Transmission of the Notice of Appeal, Order Appealed, and Docket Sheet to US Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals docketing fee was not paid because the fee was an Appeal by the Government re 33 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court. (zrdj) (Entered: 10/09/2015)
2015-10-1935STATUS REPORT by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 10/19/2015)
2015-10-2036ORDER of USCA (certified copy) as to 33 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. It is ORDERED, on the court's own motion, that this case be held in abeyance pending further order of the court. USCA Case Number 15-5281. (vt) (Entered: 10/22/2015)
2015-10-20USCA Case Number 15-5281 for 33 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (md) (Entered: 10/22/2015)
2015-10-2237Memorandum in opposition to re 30 MOTION for Reconsideration filed by JASON LEOPOLD. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 10/22/2015)
2015-11-0238REPLY to opposition to motion re 30 MOTION for Reconsideration filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 11/02/2015)
2016-04-2139NOTICE OF SUPPLEMENTAL AUTHORITY by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A)(Elliott, Stephen) (Entered: 04/21/2016)
2016-04-2540MEMORANDUM OPINION re: 30 Motion for Reconsideration. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 04/25/2016. (lcpam1) (Entered: 04/25/2016)
2016-04-2541ORDER granting 30 Motion for Reconsideration. It is further ordered that 13 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and 15 Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part. See attached Order for further details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 04/25/2016. (lcpam1) Modified on 4/26/2016 (cdw). (Entered: 04/25/2016)
2016-04-2642MOTION to Vacate 41 Order on Motion for Reconsideration, , MOTION for Briefing Schedule by JASON LEOPOLD (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 04/26/2016)
2016-04-26MINUTE ORDER: Defendant shall respond to 42 Plaintiff's Motion to Vacate Order on Reconsideration and Motion for Briefing Schedule on or before May 3, 2016. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 04/26/2016. (lcapm1) (Entered: 04/26/2016)
2016-04-26Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Response to 42 due by 5/3/2016. (cdw) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-05-0343Memorandum in opposition to re 42 MOTION to Vacate 41 Order on Motion for Reconsideration, MOTION for Briefing Schedule filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Powell, Amy) (Entered: 05/03/2016)
2016-05-0944MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying 42 Plaintiff's Motion to Vacate Order and modifying 41 the court's Order of April 25, 2016. See attached Memorandum Opinion and Order for further details. Signed by Amit P. Mehta on 05/09/2016. (lcapm1) (Entered: 05/09/2016)
2016-07-0545MANDATE of USCA (certified copy) as to 33 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court filed by DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. USCA Case Number 15-5281. (Attachments: # 1 order filed July 5, 2016)((zrdj) Modified on 7/5/2016 to correct event (zrdj). (Entered: 07/05/2016)
2016-07-1146ORDER formally granting 30 Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration. See attached Order for further details. Signed by Judge Amit P. Mehta on 07/11/2016. (lcapm1) (Entered: 07/11/2016)
2016-08-1047NOTICE OF APPEAL TO DC CIRCUIT COURT as to 44 Memorandum & Opinion, Order,, 46 Order by JASON LEOPOLD. Filing fee $ 505, receipt number 0090-4634212. Fee Status: Fee Paid. Parties have been notified. (Light, Jeffrey) (Entered: 08/10/2016)
2016-08-1148Transmission of the Notice of Appeal, Order Appealed, and Docket Sheet to US Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals fee was paid this date re 47 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court. (jf) (Entered: 08/11/2016)
2016-08-17USCA Case Number 16-5237 for 47 Notice of Appeal to DC Circuit Court filed by JASON LEOPOLD. (zrdj) (Entered: 08/17/2016)
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