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Case TitleEakin v. United States Department of Defense
DistrictWestern District of Texas
CitySan Antonio
Case Number5:2016cv00972
Date Filed2016-09-30
Date ClosedOpen
JudgeJudge Royce C. Lamberth
PlaintiffJohn Eakin
Case DescriptionJohn Eakin, a researcher on missing in action issues, submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Defense for electronic records of all World War II era individual deceased personnel files. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request and took a 10-day extension. After hearing nothing further from the agency, Eakin filed suit.
Complaint issues: Failure to respond within statutory time limit, Adequacy - Search, Litigation - Vaughn index, Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantUnited States Department of Defense
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Opinion/Order [29]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Royce Lamberth has ruled that a voluminous request by John Eakin for records concerning Americans who died as a result of being held in Japanese POW camps in the Philippines during World War II and whose remains were not recovered or identified does not qualify as being so burdensome that the Defense Department should be excused from processing it, but has found that the agency qualifies for an Open America stay allowing the Army Human Resources Command to finish reviewing three hard drives containing 280,000 Individual Deceased Personnel Files where the responsive records are located. The case involved a 2010 FOIA suit Eakin filed in the Western District of Texas. The court there rejected Eakin's request for a fee waiver and expedited processing, but did not reach the government's burden claim because it had not been raised at the administrative level. In 2016, Eakin filed a request for the records in electronic format. He also requested copies of the contracts for scanning the records. The agency told Eakin that unusual circumstances applied to his request and that it was being placed in the agency's complex processing queue with over 1,600 other requests. Eakin appealed and when the agency failed to respond, he filed suit, this time in the District of Columbia. The agency told Lamberth that the AHRC had assigned three of its eight FOIA staff to process such requests at the rate of one hour a day. The agency argued the request was too burdensome and, alternatively, that it qualified for an Open America stay. Eakin argued that because the agency had already ascertained and located the files and merely needed to review them for exempt information, his request could not be considered too burdensome. Lamberth agreed. He noted that "while plaintiff's FOIA request is broad, the broad nature of the request is warranted given the necessarily broad nature of the information that the plaintiff is seeking." He observed that "that DoD has already identified the cache of data in which the universe of responsive documents is located, segregated it, and begun cataloguing documents for release, indicates that the plaintiff's FOIA request is sufficiently particular to enable the DoD to determine what records are being requested." Lamberth complained that the agency had never contacted Eakin to discuss narrowing the request, noting that "the fact that the DoD utterly failed to even make an attempt to communicate these realities to Eakin is disappointing and frustrating. The Court will not fault the plaintiff here for failing to limit or modify his request when the government could not even be bothered to satisfy its relatively simple obligations [to contact the requester]." To move the processing of Eakin's request along, Lamberth ordered the agency to provide a sample Vaughn index of the redactions from 100-150 documents chosen by Eakin. Lamberth found, however, that agency qualified for a stay. He noted the agency estimated that it would take 3,132 man-hours to complete Eakin's request. The agency had already processed over 30,000 IDPFs, showing both due diligence and good faith. Lamberth granted the agency a four-year stay to February 2021 and told the agency to provide a semi-annual production of records to Eakin.
Issues: Delay - Stay of proceedings, Choice of format - Burdensome
Opinion/Order [42]
FOIA Project Annotation: Presiding over a case in the Western District of Texas, Judge Royce Lamberth has clarified several disagreements arising from John Eakin's massive FOIA requests estimated at 4.2 terabytes (300 million pages) of records concerning deceased World War II soldiers and the way the National Archives and Records Administration has been handling their personnel files. In August 2017, Lamberth allowed the government until February 2021 to produce all non-exempt responsive records. Eakin had asked for records as PDF files. He argued that the government should not be allowed to slow the processing of his request by re-reviewing records. Lamberth clarified that "the government can vet any never-before-released responsive records for exempt material before giving them to Eakin. The government can also reprocess any previously-released records if the government has not record of the results of the previous review " i.e., if the government doesn't know whether there was any material, or if the government didn't maintain the document in redacted form. But if the government has any responsive records that it knows have been already reviewed and appropriately redacted, the government cannot drag its feet by rehashing their review and redaction in this litigation." Lamberth also indicated that the government would be required to provide any newly released documents to Eakin as PDF files. He also agreed to assess Eakin's challenges to the government's Vaughn index to the extent such objections "to prevent the government from traveling too far down a wrong road." He added that "but the proper vehicle to do so remains a motion for summary judgment teeing-up the specific legal question with a Vaughn index that samples withholdings or redactions representative of Eakin's broader challenges."
Issues: Choice of format
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2016-09-30THIS CASE HAS BEEN RANDOMLY ASSIGNED TO JUDGE XAVIER RODRIGUEZ. (fs) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-09-30If ordered by the court, all referrals will be assigned to Magistrate Judge Primomo. (fs) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-09-301COMPLAINT ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 500036375), filed by John Eakin. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Filing Fee Receipt)(fs) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-09-302MOTION For Leave to File Electronically by John Eakin. (fs) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-09-303Summons Issued as to United States Department of Defense, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney Department of Justice (fs) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-09-30Text Order GRANTING 2 Motion for leave to file electronically entered by Judge Xavier Rodriguez. Plaintiff may file electronically pursuant to the electronic filing requirements for a pro se litigant set forth in the Administrative Policies and Procedures for Electronic Filing in Criminal and Civil Cases found on the Court's website. (This is a text-only entry generated by the court. There is no document associated with this entry.) (lel) (Entered: 09/30/2016)
2016-10-174SUMMONS Returned Executed by John Eakin. Department of Defense (Eakin, John) Modified on 10/17/2016 (rg). (Entered: 10/17/2016)
2016-10-175SUMMONS Returned Executed by John Eakin. United States Department of Defense served on 10/11/2016, answer due 12/12/2016. (Eakin, John) (Entered: 10/17/2016)
2016-10-176SUMMONS Returned Executed on 10/3/2016 by John Eakin. US Atty (Eakin, John) (Entered: 10/17/2016)
2016-10-17Reset Deadlines: United States Department of Defense answer due 12/2/2016. (rg) (Entered: 10/17/2016)
2016-10-187NOTICE Statutory time to answer FOIA complaint by John Eakin (Eakin, John) (Entered: 10/18/2016)
2016-11-018Defendant's ANSWER to Complaint . Attorney Robert Shaw-Meadow added to party United States Department of Defense(pty:dft) by United States Department of Defense.(Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 11/01/2016)
2016-11-019ORDER AND ADVISORY for Scheduling Recommendations/Proposed Scheduling Order. Plaintiff shall submit scheduling recommendations/proposed scheduling order to the Court. (Scheduling Recommendations/Proposed Scheduling Order due by 12-1-16); Notice of right to consent to disposition of a civil case by a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Signed by Judge Xavier Rodriguez. (jhw) (Entered: 11/01/2016)
2016-11-01Set/Reset Deadlines: Scheduling Recommendations/Proposed Scheduling Order due by 12/1/2016, (rf) (Entered: 11/02/2016)
2016-11-2310CONSENT to Trial by US Magistrate Judge by John Eakin. (rf) (Entered: 11/23/2016)
2016-12-0111STATUS REPORT Joint Rule 26(f) Report and Response to Court Order of November 1, 2016 by United States Department of Defense. (Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 12/01/2016)
2016-12-0112Scheduling Recommendations/Proposed Scheduling Order Joint by United States Department of Defense. (Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 12/01/2016)
2016-12-0113NON-CONSENT to Trial by US Magistrate Judge by United States Department of Defense. (Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 12/01/2016)
2016-12-0114NOTICE of Attorney Absence by United States Department of Defense (Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 12/01/2016)
2016-12-0715SCHEDULING ORDER: Plaintiff's amended pleadings or motions to join parties due 12-30-16; Defendant's motion to designate third parties, amend pleadings or join parties is 1-20-17; Pretrial Motions due 2-1-17. Signed by Judge Xavier Rodriguez. (jhw) (Entered: 12/07/2016)
2017-01-2416MOTION for Summary Judgment by John Eakin. (Eakin, John) (Entered: 01/24/2017)
2017-01-3117Opposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment and to Submitt Cross Motion for Summary Judgment by United States Department of Defense. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit, # 2 Exhibit)(Shaw-Meadow, Robert) (Entered: 01/31/2017)
2017-02-0318Response in Opposition to Motion, filed by John Eakin, re 17 Opposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment and to Submitt Cross Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant United States Department of Defense (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Exemplar FOIA request)(Eakin, John) (Entered: 02/03/2017)
2017-02-0719NOTICE of Withdrawal and Substitution of Counsel by United States Department of Defense (Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 02/07/2017)
2017-02-0920RESPONSE in Support, filed by United States Department of Defense, re 17 Opposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 16 MOTION for Summary Judgment and to Submitt Cross Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant United States Department of Defense (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 02/09/2017)
2017-03-1321ORDER REASSIGNING CASE. Case reassigned to Judge Royce C. Lamberth for all proceedings. Judge Xavier Rodriguez no longer assigned to case. Signed by Judge Xavier Rodriguez. (rg) (Entered: 03/14/2017)
2017-06-0122Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment , MOTION to Stay Case in the Alternative by United States Department of Defense. (Attachments: # 1 Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, # 2 Exhibit 1- Wey Declaration)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 06/01/2017)
2017-06-0723MOTION to Strike 22 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment MOTION to Stay Case in the Alternative by John Eakin. (Eakin, John) (Entered: 06/07/2017)
2017-06-0724Response in Opposition to Motion, filed by John Eakin, re 22 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment MOTION to Stay Case in the Alternative filed by Defendant United States Department of Defense (Eakin, John) (Entered: 06/07/2017)
2017-06-1425RESPONSE to Motion, filed by United States Department of Defense, re 23 MOTION to Strike 22 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment MOTION to Stay Case in the Alternative filed by Plaintiff John Eakin (Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 06/14/2017)
2017-06-1426RESPONSE in Support, filed by United States Department of Defense, re 22 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment MOTION to Stay Case in the Alternative filed by Defendant United States Department of Defense (Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 06/14/2017)
2017-08-0227ORDER GRANTING 17 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply nunc pro tunc Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (ad) (Entered: 08/02/2017)
2017-08-0228ORDER MOOTING 23 Motion to Strike Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (ad) (Entered: 08/02/2017)
2017-08-0229MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (ad) (Entered: 08/02/2017)
2017-08-0230ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART 16 Motion for Summary Judgment; DENYING 22 Motion for Summary Judgment; GRANTING 22 Motion to Stay Case Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (ad) (Entered: 08/02/2017)
2018-01-1731Opposed MOTION to Compel Production by John Eakin. (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order, # 2 Exhibit Scanning Contract, # 3 Exhibit Sample Previously Released Files, # 4 Exhibit Sample Embedded Document, # 5 Exhibit Vaughn Index, # 6 Exhibit Description of Scanning Project)(Eakin, John) (Entered: 01/17/2018)
2018-01-2232MOTION to Stay Case by United States Department of Defense. (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 01/22/2018)
2018-01-2433MOTION to Withdraw ITS MOTION TO STAY by United States Department of Defense. (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 01/24/2018)
2018-01-2434MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply by United States Department of Defense. (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 01/24/2018)
2018-01-2435ORDER DENYING 32 Motion to Stay Case Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (mgr) (Entered: 01/25/2018)
2018-02-0736RESPONSE to Motion, filed by United States Department of Defense, re 31 Opposed MOTION to Compel Production filed by Plaintiff John Eakin (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit)(Kruger, Mary) (Entered: 02/07/2018)
2018-02-1337REPLY to Response to Motion, filed by John Eakin, re 31 Opposed MOTION to Compel Production filed by Plaintiff John Eakin (Eakin, John) (Entered: 02/13/2018)
2018-05-2438Unopposed MOTION for Leave to File Sur Reply by John Eakin. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Sur Reply, # 2 Exhibit Proposed Order)(Eakin, John) (Entered: 05/24/2018)
2018-06-2139ORDER GRANTING 38 Motion for Leave to File sur reply Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (mgr) (Entered: 06/25/2018)
2018-06-2140Plaintiff's Sur Reply to his opposed Motion for Clarification and to Compel Production of Documents to 38 Unopposed MOTION for Leave to File Sur Reply by John Eakin. (mgr) (Entered: 06/25/2018)
2018-06-2141ORDER GRANTING 34 Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (mgr) (Entered: 06/25/2018)
2019-06-0542MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (kjw) (Entered: 06/05/2019)
2019-06-0543ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART 31 Motion to Compel. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (kjw) (Entered: 06/05/2019)
2019-06-05MINUTE ORDER DENYING AS MOOT 33 Motion to Withdraw. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (kjw) (Entered: 06/05/2019)
2019-06-0644NOTICE of Attorney Appearance by Jacquelyn Michelle Christilles on behalf of United States Department of Defense. Attorney Jacquelyn Michelle Christilles added to party United States Department of Defense(pty:dft) (Christilles, Jacquelyn) (Entered: 06/06/2019)
2019-06-1745Scheduling Recommendations/Proposed Scheduling Order by United States Department of Defense. (Christilles, Jacquelyn) (Entered: 06/17/2019)
2019-06-1746MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment by John Eakin. (Attachments: # 1 Appendix Material Facts Not In Dispute, # 2 Affidavit Eakin Declaration, # 3 Exhibit Exemplar Documents, # 4 Exhibit Vaughn Index)(Eakin, John) (Entered: 06/17/2019)
2019-06-2447SCHEDULING ORDER: Plaintiff's partial motion for summary judgment was filed on June 19, 2019. The parties have agreed that defendant will have until July 15, 2019 to file its response to plaintiff's partial motion for summary judgment. If plaintiff elects to submit a reply to defendant's response to his partial motion for summary judgment, such reply shall be due by July 22, 2019. Signed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (em) (Entered: 06/24/2019)
2019-07-1548RESPONSE to Motion, filed by United States Department of Defense, re 46 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff John Eakin (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1, McDermott Declaration, # 2 Exhibit A to Exhibit 1, Na'Ali Contract, # 3 Exhibit B to Exhibit 1, OCR Samples, # 4 Exhibit 2, Letter to Eakin re Vaughn Index)(Christilles, Jacquelyn) (Entered: 07/15/2019)
2019-07-1949REPLY to Response to Motion, filed by John Eakin, re 46 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff John Eakin (Eakin, John) (Entered: 07/19/2019)
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