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Case TitleCORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE v. AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2016cv02252
Date Filed2016-11-14
Date Closed2018-01-31
JudgeJudge Amy Berman Jackson
PlaintiffCORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE
Case DescriptionThe Cornucopia Institute submitted a FOIA request to the Agricultural Marketing Service for records concerning applications for vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board. The agency told the Cornucopia Institute that it had found 671 pages, but no records were released. Cornucopia Institute filed an administrative appeal, which was denied by the agency. Cornucopia Institute then filed suit.
Complaint issues: Adequacy - Search, Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantAGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Complaint attachment 4
Opinion/Order [20]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ruled that the Cornucopia Institute is entitled to attorney's fees for its suit against the Agricultural Marketing Service, but that its fee request is excessive because the vast majority of the time claimed pertained to the attorney's fees dispute. As a result, Jackson reduced its $41,965 request to $12,145. The Cornucopia Institute requested information about candidates for five vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board. The agency denied the request entirely under Exemption 5 (privileges) and Exemption 6 (invasion of privacy). Shortly after the Cornucopia Institute filed suit, the five vacancies were filled, and the agency decided to withdraw its deliberative process privilege claim. It disclosed 264 pages in full and 407 pages with redactions of personal information. The agency disclosed more information about the five appointed candidates after deciding disclosure would be in the public interest. As the result of discussions with the Cornucopia Institute, the agency also decided to disclose the state of residence for each applicant and to produce several other pages that had been inadvertently omitted. Although the parties never appeared before Jackson, they could not agree on an award of attorney's fees. The agency claimed that the Cornucopia Institute's suit had not caused the agency to disclose the records, but, instead, the fact that the vacancies were filled. Noting that it was a "close question," Jackson explained that "it is clear that the change in circumstances played some role in the agency's change of position. But it also true that the change came shortly after plaintiff filed its lawsuit, and while communications between the parties were underway. Therefore, while it cannot be said that the filing of the lawsuit was the sole basis for the agency's change in position, there was a substantial causal connection." Jackson also pointed to the disclosure of the state of residence of applicants as a significant piece of information that was disclosed as a result of the suit. She observed that "the Court is not relying on these additional limited disclosures alone for its determination. In any event, the geographic makeup of the applicant pool is not entirely insignificant. . ." Jackson found there was a public interest in disclosure of the information, noting that appointment of board members "is relevant to the broader goal of monitoring the administration and enforcement of organic standards." She also found the agency's legal position was reasonable, but after balancing the factors concluded the Cornucopia Institute was entitled to fees. However, she observed that "the total fee request is unreasonable because an undue portion of it derives from time billed litigating and mediating the amount of attorney's fees, rather than the merits of the underlying FOIA action," and pointed out that "this amount accounts for approximately 70% of the total fee request." She reduced the fees on fees request to $2,000 and indicated that the $12,965 requested for the merits seemed excessive. She explained that "the parties were able to resolve the FOIA request within six months from the date plaintiff filed its suit and without any briefing. There was nothing particularly complex about the narrow FOIA request. Therefore, the Court will reduce the award for time billed on the merits by 25% and will award $9,723."
Issues: Litigation - Attorney's fees - Entitlement - Calculation of award
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2016-11-141COMPLAINT against AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4742507) filed by CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Summons, # 3 Summons, # 4 Summons)(Sorenson, C.) (Entered: 11/14/2016)
2016-11-15Case Assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson. (sb) (Entered: 11/15/2016)
2016-11-152SUMMONS (3) Issued Electronically as to AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachment: # 1 Consent Form)(sb) (Entered: 11/15/2016)
2016-11-183NOTICE of Appearance by Daniel J. Stotter on behalf of CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE (Stotter, Daniel) (Entered: 11/18/2016)
2016-12-074Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to Respond to Plaintiff's Complaint by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 12/07/2016)
2016-12-08MINUTE ORDER granting defendant's 4 consent motion for an extension of time to answer. Defendant shall answer or otherwise respond to the complaint by January 31, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 12/8/2016.(lcabj3) (Entered: 12/08/2016)
2016-12-08Set/Reset Deadlines: Answer to the Complaint due by 1/31/2017. (tg) (Entered: 12/08/2016)
2017-01-315Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply to Complaint by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 01/31/2017)
2017-02-01MINUTE ORDER granting defendant's 5 consent motion for an extension of time to answer. Defendant shall answer or otherwise respond to the complaint by March 6, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/1/2017.(lcabj3) (Entered: 02/01/2017)
2017-03-066Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 03/06/2017)
2017-03-07MINUTE ORDER granting defendant's 6 unopposed motion for an extension of time to answer. Defendant shall file a responsive pleading by March 14, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 3/7/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 03/07/2017)
2017-03-137Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 03/13/2017)
2017-03-13MINUTE ORDER granting defendant's 7 motion for an extension of time to answer. Defendant shall file a responsive pleading by April 12, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 3/13/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 03/13/2017)
2017-04-128Joint MOTION to Stay by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 04/12/2017)
2017-04-14MINUTE ORDER granting the parties' 8 joint motion to stay. The parties shall file a joint status report by May 12, 2017, if the matter has not been voluntarily dismissed by that date, to update the Court on the status of the negotiations, and to propose a schedule for further proceedings, if necessary. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 4/14/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 04/14/2017)
2017-05-119WITHDRAWN PURSUANT TO NOTICE FILED 05/12/17.....MOTION for Extension of Time to File Motion to Stay by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Johnson, Wyneva) Modified on 5/21/2017 (jth). (Entered: 05/11/2017)
2017-05-12MINUTE ORDER. Defendant's 9 motion to extend the stay does not comply with Local Civil Rule 7(m). Defendant shall inform the Court of plaintiff's position on the motion to extend the stay by May 16, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 5/12/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 05/12/2017)
2017-05-1210NOTICE to the Court by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 05/12/2017)
2017-05-1211Joint STATUS REPORT by CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Sorenson, C.) (Entered: 05/12/2017)
2017-05-15MINUTE ORDER. In light of the 11 joint status report, the stay in this matter is hereby extended until June 12, 2017. The parties shall file a further joint status report by June 12, 2017, if the matter has not been voluntarily dismissed by that date, to update the Court on the status of the matter, and to propose a schedule for further proceedings, if necessary. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 5/15/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 05/15/2017)
2017-05-15Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings: Joint Status Report due by 6/12/2017. (cdw) (Entered: 05/15/2017)
2017-05-16Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 6/12/2017. (tb) (Entered: 05/16/2017)
2017-06-1212Joint STATUS REPORT by CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE. (Sorenson, C.) (Entered: 06/12/2017)
2017-06-1413ORDER REFERRING CASE to a Magistrate Judge to conduct a mediation concerning attorneys' fees that is to be completed by July 18, 2017. If the matter has not been resolved by July 18, 2017, the following briefing schedule will apply: Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees will be due by August 18, 2017. Defendant's opposition will be due by September 18, 2017. Plaintiff's reply will be due by October 13, 2017. See Order for complete details. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 6/14/2017.(lcabj3) (Entered: 06/14/2017)
2017-06-14CASE RANDOMLY REFERRED to Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson for Mediation to be completed by July 18, 2017. (sth) (Entered: 06/15/2017)
2017-06-15Set/Reset Hearings: Settlement Conference scheduled for Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson. The parties' request that all mediation proceedings be handled via telephonic communication is GRANTED. (lcdar2) (Entered: 06/15/2017)
2017-06-27Minute Entry for proceedings held before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson: Settlement Conference conducted on Tuesday, June 27, 2017; mediation concluded. (lcdar2) (Entered: 06/27/2017)
2017-08-1814MOTION for Attorney Fees by CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE (Attachments: # 1 Declaration Doughty Declaration, # 2 Declaration English Declaration, # 3 Declaration Fantle Declaration, # 4 Declaration Sorenson Declaration, # 5 Text of Proposed Order, # 6 Memorandum in Support)(Sorenson, C.) (Entered: 08/18/2017)
2017-08-21MINUTE ORDER. In light of the filing of the 14 motion for attorneys fees, the stay in this matter is hereby lifted. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 8/21/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 08/21/2017)
2017-09-1815Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 09/18/2017)
2017-09-19MINUTE ORDER granting defendant's 15 unopposed motion for an extension of time. Any opposition to the motion for attorneys' fees shall be filed by September 20, 2017, and a reply, if necessary, shall be filed by October 16, 2017. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 9/19/2017. (lcabj3) (Entered: 09/19/2017)
2017-09-2016Memorandum in opposition to re 14 MOTION for Attorney Fees filed by AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit Bridges Declaration, # 2 Exhibit 1 to Bridges Declaration, # 3 Exhibit 2 to Bridges Declaration, # 4 Text of Proposed Order)(Johnson, Wyneva) (Entered: 09/20/2017)
2017-10-1617REPLY to opposition to motion re 14 MOTION for Attorney Fees filed by CORNUCOPIA INSTITUTE. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration, # 2 Declaration, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Sorenson, C.) (Entered: 10/16/2017)
2017-10-1918NOTICE of Appearance by Rachel Doughty on behalf of All Plaintiffs (Doughty, Rachel) (Main Document 18 replaced on 10/20/2017) (znmw). (Entered: 10/19/2017)
2018-01-1019ORDER. Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 54(d) and 58, and for the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion, its hereby ORDERED that 14 plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs is GRANTED and it is further ORDERED that defendant must pay $11,723.75 for attorneys' fees and $422.08 in costs for a total of $12,145.83.SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 01/10/2018. (lcabj3) (Entered: 01/10/2018)
2018-01-1020MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 01/10/2018. (lcabj3) (Entered: 01/10/2018)
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by FOIA Project Staff