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Case TitleThe Few, The Proud, The Forgotten et al v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs
DistrictDistrict of Connecticut
CityNew Haven
Case Number3:2016cv00647
Date Filed2016-04-27
Date ClosedOpen
JudgeJudge Victor A. Bolden
PlaintiffThe Few, The Proud, The Forgotten
PlaintiffVietnam Veterans of America
PlaintiffConnecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America
Case DescriptionThe Few, the Proud, the Forgotten, a veterans organization focused on obtaining disability benefits for Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune who were exposed to contaminated water, and the Connecticut Council of Vietnam Veterans of America submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Veterans Affairs for records concerning the agency's Subject Matter Expert program pertaining to the Camp Lejeune claims. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request, but after hearing nothing further from the agency, the veterans' organizations filed suit.
Complaint issues: Failure to respond within statutory time limit, Public Interest Fee Waiver, Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantUnited States Department of Veterans Affairs
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Opinion/Order [39]
FOIA Project Annotation: A federal court in Connecticut has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not shown that it conducted an adequate search for records responding to a multi-part request concerning the use of Subject Matter Experts to adjudicate disability claims stemming from contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune and has agreed that the veterans' organizations who brought the suit may conduct discovery if currently uncompleted searches do not satisfy them. Concerned that the rate of successful claims had dropped from 25 percent to eight percent, several veterans' organizations submitted the requests to the agency. The agency divided responsibility for responding to the request between the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration. After a number of searches, the agency provided some records, withholding personally-identifying records about SMEs under Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). The veterans' organizations argued the agency had not shown why it divided the request for search purposes. The court agreed, noting that "at this stage of the litigation, the Court cannot conclude that this allocation of labor was a reasonable response to Plaintiffs' request. Defendant delegated the claims-related paragraphs of the FOIA request to VBA because of VBA's focus on claims adjudication, rather than management of the SME program and the SMEs. As Plaintiffs noted, however, Defendant's declarations do not adequately explain why VBA would not have records responsive to more general questions concerning the SME program. . ." The court faulted the VBA for failing to describe its file system, its decision to limit the search to certain offices, and its failure to use certain obvious keywords. The court observed that the agency's affidavits "do not explain why VBA excluded the term 'Subject Matter Expert' when searching for responses to a FOIA request concerning the Subject Matter Expert program. Without this 'explanation,' the Court cannot conclude that the search was 'adequate.'" Assessing the search done by VHA, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the component had not sufficiently shown personal knowledge of the records search by the individuals who signed the affidavits. The court pointed out that it "cannot hold as a matter of law that the three declarations from VHA officials are based on sufficient 'personal knowledge' to support a motion for summary judgment. This is especially true because the declarations provide few details about the searches in question." The agency had redacted all information about the SMEs, including their qualifications. The court noted that "Defendant does not describe a privacy interest relating to the SME's qualifications and submits no information suggesting that such disclosure would subject SMEs to harassment or threats. Plaintiffs articulate a public interest in the disclosure of SMEs' qualifications, but do not describe a separate public interest in the disclosure of other identifying details. Because Defendant represented at oral argument that it will produce additional records in response to Plaintiffs' inquiry about the qualifications of the SMEs, the Court will not address whether Exemption 6 would permit redaction of the SMEs' names, if Defendant produced no additional records establishing their qualifications." The court expressed hope that the parties could settle their remaining differences, but indicated that it would grant limited discovery if the agency's further responses were not satisfactory.
Issues: Adequacy - Search, Search - Detailed description of search
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2016-04-271COMPLAINT against United States Department of Veterans Affairs ( Filing fee $400 receipt number 0205-3978821.), filed by The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America Connecticut State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America.(Parkin, Jason) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-27Judge Victor A. Bolden added. (Oliver, T.) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-272STANDING PROTECTIVE ORDER Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 4/27/2016.(Fazekas, J.) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-273ELECTRONIC FILING ORDER - PLEASE ENSURE COMPLIANCE WITH COURTESY COPY REQUIREMENTS IN THIS ORDER Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 4/27/2016.(Fazekas, J.) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-274NOTICE TO COUNSEL: Counsel initiating or removing this action is responsible for serving all parties with attached documents and copies of 3 Electronic Filing Order, 2 Standing Protective Order, 1 Complaint, filed by Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America Signed by Clerk on 4/27/2016.(Fazekas, J.) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-27Request for Clerk to issue summons as to United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Parkin, Jason) (Entered: 04/27/2016)
2016-04-295ENTERED IN ERROR - ELECTRONIC SUMMONS ISSUED in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 and LR 4 as to *United States Department of Veterans Affairs* with answer to complaint due within *60* days. Attorney *Jason Parkin* *Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization* *Yale Law School, PO Box 209090* *New Haven, CT 06520-9090*. (Fazekas, J.) Modified on 4/29/2016 (Fazekas, J.). (Entered: 04/29/2016)
2016-04-296ENTERED IN ERROR - ELECTRONIC SUMMONS ISSUED in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 and LR 4 as to *United States Department of Veterans Affairs* with answer to complaint due within *60* days. Attorney *Jason Parkin* *Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization* *Yale Law School, PO Box 209090* *New Haven, CT 06520-9090*. (Fazekas, J.) Modified on 5/4/2016 (Fazekas, J.). (Entered: 04/29/2016)
2016-05-047ELECTRONIC SUMMONS ISSUED in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 4 and LR 4 as to *United States Department of Veterans Affairs* with answer to complaint due within *30* days. Attorney *Jason Parkin* *Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, Yale Law School* *PO Box 209090* *New Haven, CT 06520-9090*. (Fazekas, J.) (Entered: 05/04/2016)
2016-06-098NOTICE of Appearance by John W Larson on behalf of United States Department of Veterans Affairs (Larson, John) (Entered: 06/09/2016)
2016-06-099Consent MOTION for Extension of Time until July 11, 2016, to File Responsive Pleading re 1 Complaint, by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Larson, John) (Entered: 06/09/2016)
2016-06-1010ORDER granting 9 Consent MOTION for Extension of Time until July 11, 2016, to File Responsive Pleading re 1 Complaint. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 6/10/2016. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 06/10/2016)
2016-06-13Answer deadline updated for United States Department of Veterans Affairs to 7/11/2016. (Perez, J.) (Entered: 06/13/2016)
2016-06-2711SUMMONS Returned Executed by The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America. United States Department of Veterans Affairs served on 5/9/2016, answer due 7/11/2016. (Parkin, Jason) (Entered: 06/27/2016)
2016-06-2912NOTICE of Appearance by Michael J. Wishnie on behalf of Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America (Wishnie, Michael) (Entered: 06/29/2016)
2016-06-2913MOTION for Jason Parkin to Withdraw as Attorney by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Parkin, Jason) (Entered: 06/29/2016)
2016-06-3014ORDER granting 13 Motion to Withdraw as Attorney. Attorney Jason Parkin terminated. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 6/30/3016. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 06/30/2016)
2016-07-1115Consent MOTION for Extension of Time until July 18, 2016, to respond to 1 Complaint, by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Larson, John) (Entered: 07/11/2016)
2016-07-1116NOTICE of Appearance by Aaron Paul Wenzloff on behalf of Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America (Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 07/11/2016)
2016-07-1217ORDER granting 15 Consent MOTION for Extension of Time until July 18, 2016 to respond to 1 Complaint. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 7/12/2016. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 07/12/2016)
2016-07-12Answer deadline updated for All Defendants to 7/18/2016. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 07/12/2016)
2016-07-1818ANSWER to 1 Complaint, by United States Department of Veterans Affairs.(Larson, John) (Entered: 07/18/2016)
2016-08-0819MOTION for Status Conference by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 08/08/2016)
2016-08-0920ORDER granting 19 Motion for a Scheduling Conference. Telephonic Scheduling Conference set for 8/26/2016 at 11:30 am. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 8/9/2016. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 08/09/2016)
2016-08-0921NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE.ALL PERSONS ENTERING THE COURTHOUSE MUST PRESENT PHOTO IDENTIFICATION. Telephonic Scheduling Conference set for 8/26/2016 11:30 AM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. Once all counsel are on the line, please call Chambers at (203) 579-5562. (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 08/09/2016)
2016-08-2622Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Victor A. Bolden: Status Conference held on 8/26/2016. Total Time: 8 minutes(Court Reporter Sharon Montini.) (Dearing, S.) (Entered: 08/26/2016)
2016-08-2623SCHEDULING ORDER: As discussed during the Telephonic Status Conference held today, the Court sets the following deadlines: Production of all documents, including those from the VBA and VHA, must occur by 9/23/2016; Production of search declarations and Vaughn Indices must occur by 10/28/2016; Plaintiffs must notify Defendant of any objections to the discovery provided by 11/10/2016. Dispositive Motions due by 12/9/2016; any Opposition to Dispositive Motions is due by 1/13/2017; any Reply to such motions is due by 1/27/2017. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 8/26/2016.(Dearing, S.) (Entered: 08/26/2016)
2016-12-0724Consent MOTION for Extension of Time until December 23, 2016, to File Dispositive Motion 23 Scheduling Order,, by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Larson, John) (Entered: 12/07/2016)
2016-12-0825ORDER granting 24 Consent Motion for Extension of Time and modifying 23 Scheduling Order. Dispositive motions to be filed by 12/23/2016; opposition due 1/27/2017 and reply brief due 2/10/2017. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 12/8/2016. (Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 12/08/2016)
2016-12-2326MOTION for Summary Judgment by United States Department of Veterans Affairs.Responses due by 1/13/2017 (Attachments: # 1 Memorandum in Support, # 2 Statement of Material Facts)(Larson, John) (Entered: 12/23/2016)
2017-01-2627MOTION for Leave to Appear Law Student Intern Rory M. Minnis by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Client Consent to Appearance of Law Student Intern R. Minnis)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 01/26/2017)
2017-01-2628MOTION for Leave to Appear Law Student Intern Helen E. White by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Client Consent to Appearance of Law Student Intern H. White)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 01/26/2017)
2017-01-2729ORDER granting 27 Motion to Appear. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 1/27/2017.(Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 01/27/2017)
2017-01-2730ORDER granting 28 Motion to Appear. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 1/27/2017.(Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 01/27/2017)
2017-01-2731Memorandum in Opposition re 26 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Statement of Material Facts, # 2 Exhibit A, # 3 Exhibit B, # 4 Exhibit C, # 5 Exhibit D, # 6 Exhibit E, # 7 Exhibit F, # 8 Exhibit G, # 9 Exhibit H, # 10 Exhibit I, # 11 Exhibit J, # 12 Exhibit K, # 13 Exhibit L, # 14 Exhibit M, # 15 Exhibit N, # 16 Exhibit O, # 17 Exhibit P, # 18 Exhibit Q, # 19 Exhibit R, # 20 Exhibit S, # 21 Exhibit T)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 01/27/2017)
2017-02-1032REPLY to Response to 26 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Stephania Griffin)(Larson, John) (Entered: 02/10/2017)
2017-02-2033Consent NOTICE by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America of Request for Oral Argument RE: 26 MOTION for Summary Judgment (Wenzloff, Aaron) Modified on 2/21/2017 (Blough, B.). (Entered: 02/20/2017)
2017-04-0534NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE.ALL PERSONS ENTERING THE COURTHOUSE MUST PRESENT PHOTO IDENTIFICATION. Hearing on motion for summary judgment set for 4/24/2017 10:30 AM in Courtroom Two, 915 Lafayette Blvd., Bridgeport, CT before Judge Victor A. Bolden. (Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 04/05/2017)
2017-04-1735Consent MOTION for Leave to Appear Law Student Intern Shikha Garg by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Client Consent to Appearance of Law Student Intern S. Garg)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 04/17/2017)
2017-04-1736Consent MOTION for Leave to Appear Law Student Intern Diana Lee by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Client Consent to Appearance of Law Student Intern D. Lee)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 04/17/2017)
2017-04-1937ORDER granting 35 Motion to Appear as Law Student Intern; granting 36 Motion to Appear as Law Student Intern. The Court notes that the appearance of Ms. Garg and Ms. Lee may not comply with Local Rule 83.9(c)(2), which requires Law Student Interns to have completed "legal studies amounting to at least two semesters of credit," but grants Plaintiffs' motion based on the representation that the law student interns are sufficiently close to compliance, such that the impact on this requirement is de minimis. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 4/19/2017. (Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 04/19/2017)
2017-04-2438Minute Entry Proceedings held before Judge Victor A. Bolden: Motion Hearing held on 4/24/2017; taking under advisement 26 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Total Time: 1 hours and 21 minutes(Court Reporter S. Montini.) (Perez, J.) (Entered: 04/24/2017)
2017-05-2639ORDER granting in part and denying in part 26 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 5/26/2017.(Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 05/26/2017)
2017-06-1640First MOTION for Extension of Time until July 10 & 24, 2017, to Comply with 39 Order on Motion for Summary Judgment by United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (Larson, John) (Entered: 06/16/2017)
2017-06-1941ORDER granting 40 Motion for Extension of Time. Supplemental document production due 7/10/2017, supplemental search declarations due 7/24/2017. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 6/19/2017.(Ghosh, S.) (Entered: 06/19/2017)
2017-09-2642Consent MOTION for Status Conference by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 09/26/2017)
2017-09-2743ORDER granting 42 Motion for Status Conference. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 09/27/2017. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 09/27/2017)
2017-09-2744NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE. Telephonic Status Conference set for 10/4/2017 at 02:00 PM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. Once all parties are on the line, Counsel shall call Chambers at 203-579-5562. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 09/27/2017)
2017-10-0445Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Victor A. Bolden: Status Conference held on 10/4/2017. 9 minutes. (Court Reporter S. Montini.) (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/04/2017)
2017-10-04Defendant's supplemental declarations due by 10/20/2017. Defendant's document production due by 01/12/2018. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 10/04/2017. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/04/2017)
2017-10-0446NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE. Status Conference set for 11/8/2017 at 10:30 AM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. Once all parties are on the line, Counsel shall call Chambers at 203-579-5562. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/04/2017)
2017-10-2347NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE. Telephonic Status Conference set for 11/8/2017 at 1:00 PM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. RESET FROM 11/8/2017 at 10:30 AM . Once all parties are on the line, Counsel shall call Chambers at 203-579-5562. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/23/2017)
2017-10-2448MOTION for Leave to Appear Student Attorney Ashley E. Ingram. by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Student Appearance Certification)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 10/24/2017)
2017-10-2449MOTION for Leave to Appear Student Attorney Corey M. Meyer. by Connecticut State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, Vietnam Veterans of America. (Attachments: # 1 Student Appearance Certfication)(Wenzloff, Aaron) (Entered: 10/24/2017)
2017-10-2550ORDER granting 48 Motion to Appear as to Student Attorney Ashley E. Ingram. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 10/25/2017. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/25/2017)
2017-10-2551ORDER granting 49 Motion to Appear as to Student Attorney Corey M. Meyer. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 10/25/2017. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 10/25/2017)
2017-11-0852Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Victor A. Bolden: Status Conference held on 11/8/2017. 9 minutes (Court Reporter S. Montini.) (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 11/08/2017)
2017-11-0853NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE. Status Conference set for 12/14/2017 at 03:30 PM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. Once all parties are on the line, Counsel shall call Chambers at 203-579-5562. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 11/08/2017)
2017-12-0654AMENDED NOTICE OF E-FILED CALENDAR: THIS IS THE ONLY NOTICE COUNSEL/THE PARTIES WILL RECEIVE.ALL PERSONS ENTERING THE COURTHOUSE MUST PRESENT PHOTO IDENTIFICATION. RESET FROM 12/14/2017 3:30 Status Conference set for 12/14/2017 11:00 AM before Judge Victor A. Bolden. Once all parties are on the line, Counsel shall call Chambers at 203-579-5562. (Perez, J.) (Entered: 12/06/2017)
2017-12-1155ORDER cancelling 54 Telephonic Status Conference. Signed by Judge Victor A. Bolden on 12/11/2017. (Riegel, J.) (Entered: 12/11/2017)
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by FOIA Project Staff