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Case TitleBUZZFEED INC. v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
DistrictDistrict of Columbia
CityWashington, DC
Case Number1:2018cv02370
Date Filed2018-10-15
Date Closed2022-06-06
JudgeJudge Christopher R. Cooper
PlaintiffBUZZFEED, INC.
Case DescriptionBuzzfeed submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Justice for records concerning its Religious Liberty Task Force. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request, but after hearing nothing further from the agency, Buzzfeed filed suit.
Complaint issues: Failure to respond within statutory time limit, Adequacy - Search, Litigation - Attorney's fees

DefendantU.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Documents
Docket
Complaint
Complaint attachment 1
Complaint attachment 2
Complaint attachment 3
Complaint attachment 4
Opinion/Order [33]
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Christopher Cooper has ruled that BuzzFeed is eligible for attorney's fees but is not entitled to them. The case involved an August 10, 2018, request by BuzzFeed reporter Dominc Holden to the Department of Justice for records related to the Religious Liberty Task Force, which then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had publicly announced earlier that summer. The Office of Information Policy acknowledged receipt of the request, denied Holden's request for expedited processing, and told Holden that it could not respond for at least several more months. BuzzFeed filed suit two months later. OIP's initial status report indicated that it was experiencing a backlog and that it would need four to seven months to finish processing Holden's request. The parties came to an agreement and Cooper granted OIP's request for a seven-month stay. During that time, OIP disclosed several records and completed processing Holden's request after the stay expired. BuzzFeed then filed a motion for attorney's fees, arguing it had substantially prevailed. Cooper agreed that BuzFeed was eligible for fees because he had ordered OIP to disclose a responsive email. OIP contended that while that made BuzzFeed eligible for fees Cooper should limit the fee award to only that part of the suit. However, Cooper observed that "the Department misunderstands the prevailing party analysis." He explained that "the plaintiff only needs to have 'succeeded on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some degree of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit.' 'The degree of the plaintiff's success in relation to the other goals of the lawsuit is a factor critical to the determination of the size of a reasonable fee, not to eligibility for a fee award at all.'" He indicated that "although this portion of the order covered only one document, it offered affirmative relief to exactly the kind of document sought in plaintiff's FOIA request and judicial complaint. BuzzFeed is therefore eligible for attorney's fees." But Cooper decided that BuzzFeed was not entitled to attorney's fees. He explained that the first three factors in the attorney's fee analysis " whether the request served the public interest, whether the requester had a commercial interest in the records, and whether the requester had a personal interest in the records " all weighed in favor of BuzzFeed. But the fourth factor " whether the agency's position was reasonable under the law " weighed heavily in favor of the government. Cooper pointed out that once OIP recognized that it could not respond within the statutory time limits, it moved to request a stay because of its backlog of requests, an arrangement to which BuzzFeed agreed. Cooper noted that "the Court never weighed in on the merits of the stay requested here, given the parties' eventual agreement. But contrary to BuzzFeed's suggestion now, the Department had by that point developed a significant record of the backlog it faced, the resource constraints it experienced, and the efforts it had taken to increase capacity and attempt to address the backlog." Coooper also pointed out that there was no evidence that OIP had acted inappropriately. Noting that OIP's initial keyword search yielded 115,000 potentially response items, he observed that "it is difficult for the Court to see how the Department could have waded through the material in the time allotted by FOIA, as BuzzFeed apparently expected it to do." Cooper indicated that "the Department ultimately completed review and production of 600 identified documents according to the schedule the parties agreed upon, without any further intervention by this Court. Looking at this record comprehensively, the Court does not see the sort of 'obduracy in refusing to comply with the [FOIA] requirement' that justifies an award of attorney's fees. It rather reflects the pace of production and reasonable give and take between the parties that routinely occurs in the multitude of FOIA cases litigated in this district."
Issues: Litigation - Attorney's fees - Eligibility - Causal effect, Litigation - Attorney's fees - Entitlement - Reasonable Basis for Withholding
User-contributed Documents
 
Docket Events (Hide)
Date FiledDoc #Docket Text

2018-10-151COMPLAINT against U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-5737885) filed by BUZZFEED INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A - FOIA Request, # 2 Exhibit B - FOIA Response, # 3 Civil Cover Sheet, # 4 Summons)(Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 10/15/2018)
2018-10-152NOTICE of Appearance by Matthew Topic on behalf of BUZZFEED INC. (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 10/15/2018)
2018-10-16Case Assigned to Judge Christopher R. Cooper. (zmd) (Entered: 10/16/2018)
2018-10-183SUMMONS (3) Issued Electronically as to U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachments: # 1 Notice and Consent)(zrdj) (Entered: 10/18/2018)
2018-11-134RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE served on 10/29/2018 (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 11/13/2018)
2018-11-135RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed on United States Attorney General. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney General 10/29/2018. (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 11/13/2018)
2018-11-136RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed as to the United States Attorney. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney on 11/2/2018. Answer due for ALL FEDERAL DEFENDANTS by 12/2/2018. (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 11/13/2018)
2018-12-037NOTICE of Appearance by Daniel Patrick Schaefer on behalf of U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 12/03/2018)
2018-12-038ANSWER to Complaint by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 12/03/2018)
2018-12-049NOTICE of Appearance by Matthew Lynn Schafer on behalf of BUZZFEED INC. (Schafer, Matthew) (Entered: 12/04/2018)
2018-12-04MINUTE ORDER: Before the Court in this FOIA case are a complaint and an answer. It is hereby ORDERED that the parties promptly confer and file a joint proposed schedule for briefing or disclosure by December 18, 2018. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 12/4/2018. (lccrc1) (Entered: 12/04/2018)
2018-12-06Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Proposed Briefing Schedule due by 12/18/2018 (lsj) (Entered: 12/06/2018)
2018-12-1810Joint STATUS REPORT PROPOSED SCHEDULE FOR DISCLOSURE by BUZZFEED INC.. (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 12/18/2018)
2018-12-19MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 10 joint status report, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant file a motion for an Open America stay by January 28, 2019; Plaintiff shall file its response to the motion, if any, by February 11, 2019; Defendant shall file any reply in support of the motion by February 19, 2019. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 18-cv-2370. (lccrc1) (Entered: 12/19/2018)
2018-12-19Set/Reset Deadlines: Motions due by 1/28/2019. Responses due by 2/11/2019. Replies due by 2/19/2018. (lsj) Modified on 12/26/2018 (zlsj). (Entered: 12/19/2018)
2019-01-2811MOTION for Extension of Time to File Motion for Open America Stay by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 01/28/2019)
2019-01-30MINUTE ORDER granting 11 Defendant's Motion for Extension of Time. Defendant shall file its motion for an Open America stay by March 29, 2019; Plaintiff shall file its response to the motion, if any, by April 12, 2019; Defendant shall file any reply in support of the motion by April 19, 2019. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 1/30/2019. (lccrc1) (Entered: 01/30/2019)
2019-01-30Set/Reset Deadlines: Motions due by 3/29/2019. Responses due by 4/12/2019. Replies due by 4/19/2019. (znbn) (Entered: 01/30/2019)
2019-02-2812NOTICE OF WITHDRAWAL OF APPEARANCE as to BUZZFEED INC.. Attorney Matthew Lynn Schafer terminated. (Schafer, Matthew) (Entered: 02/28/2019)
2019-03-2513LCvR 26.1 CERTIFICATE OF DISCLOSURE of Corporate Affiliations and Financial Interests by BUZZFEED INC. (Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 03/25/2019)
2019-03-2914MOTION to Stay by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (Attachments: # 1 Memorandum in Support, # 2 Exhibit 1, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 03/29/2019)
2019-04-1215Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 04/12/2019)
2019-04-16MINUTE ORDER: Upon consideration of 14 Defendant's Motion to Stay and 15 the parties' Joint Status Report, the Court hereby GRANTS 14 Defendant's Motion to Stay. The case is hereby stayed through November 26, 2019. During the pendency of the stay, Defendant shall issue an interim response by May 28, 2019 and a second and final response by July 12, 2019, pertaining to Attorney General Sessions' emails. Defendant shall also process and produce to Plaintiff as soon as is practicable, and no later than thirty (30) days, the email that Defendant located as described in 15 the parties' Joint Status Report. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 4/16/2019. (lccrc1) (Entered: 04/16/2019)
2019-08-0616NOTICE of Appearance by Merrick Jason Wayne on behalf of BUZZFEED INC. (Wayne, Merrick) (Entered: 08/06/2019)
2019-12-12MINUTE ORDER: The parties are hereby ORDERED to file a joint status report on or before January 3, 2020 on the status of the case and the need for further proceedings. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 12/12/19. (lccrc1) (Entered: 12/12/2019)
2019-12-2717Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 12/27/2019)
2019-12-30MINUTE ORDER: The parties are hereby ORDERED to file a joint status report on or before January 27, 2020 on the status of the case and the need for further proceedings. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 12/30/19. (lccrc1) (Entered: 12/30/2019)
2019-12-30Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 1/27/2020. (nbn) (Entered: 12/31/2019)
2020-01-2718Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 01/27/2020)
2020-01-29MINUTE ORDER: Upon consideration of the parties' 18 Joint Status Report, the parties are ORDERED to file a further joint status report by February 26, 2020. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 1/29/20. (lccrc1) (Entered: 01/29/2020)
2020-01-30Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 2/26/2020 (lsj) (Entered: 01/30/2020)
2020-02-2619Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 02/26/2020)
2020-02-27MINUTE ORDER: Upon consideration of the parties' 19 Joint Status Report, the parties are ORDERED to file a further joint status report by May 27, 2020. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 2/27/20. (lccrc1) (Entered: 02/27/2020)
2020-02-27Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 5/27/2020 (lsj) (Entered: 02/27/2020)
2020-05-2720Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 05/27/2020)
2020-05-28MINUTE ORDER: Upon consideration of the parties' 20 Joint Status Report, the parties are directed to file additional Joint Status Reports on or before July 27, 2020, and every sixty days thereafter, until Defendant's final production and response is complete, or until further order of the Court. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 5/28/20. (lccrc1) (Entered: 05/28/2020)
2020-05-28Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 7/27/2020 (lsj) (Entered: 05/28/2020)
2020-07-2721Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 07/27/2020)
2020-09-2522Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 09/25/2020)
2020-11-2523Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 11/25/2020)
2020-12-1724Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 12/17/2020)
2020-12-21MINUTE ORDER: In light of 24 the parties' latest Joint Status Report, the parties next Joint Status Report is due by 1/22/2021 and should include a description of any outstanding issues as well as a proposed schedule for any further proceedings in this matter. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 12/21/2020. (lccrc2) (Entered: 12/21/2020)
2021-01-2225Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 01/22/2021)
2021-01-27MINUTE ORDER: In light of 25 the parties' latest Joint Status Report, the parties next Joint Status Report is due by 2/23/2021 and should include a description of any outstanding issues as well as a proposed schedule for any further proceedings in this matter. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 1/27/2021. (lccrc2) (Entered: 01/27/2021)
2021-02-2326Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 02/23/2021)
2021-03-01MINUTE ORDER: In light of 26 the parties' latest Joint Status Report, the next Joint Status Report is due by April 26, 2021. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 3/1/2021. (lccrc2) (Entered: 03/01/2021)
2021-04-2627Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 04/26/2021)
2021-04-27MINUTE ORDER: Plaintiff's fees motion is due by 6/25/2021. Defendant's opposition is due by 7/23/2021. Plaintiff's reply is due by 8/6/2021. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 4/27/2021. (lccrc2) (Entered: 04/27/2021)
2021-06-2328MOTION for Extension of Time to Briefing Schedule by BUZZFEED, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 06/23/2021)
2021-06-25MINUTE ORDER: The Court GRANTS 28 Plaintiff's Motion for Extension of Time to file its motion for attorneys' fees. The following deadlines shall apply: Plaintiff's motion is due by 07/02/2021; Defendant's opposition is due by 07/30/2021; Plaintiff's Reply is due by 09/03/2021. SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 6/25/2021. (lccrc2) (Entered: 06/25/2021)
2021-07-0229MOTION for Attorney Fees by BUZZFEED, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B)(Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 07/02/2021)
2021-07-2330Consent MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply as to 29 MOTION for Attorney Fees by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 07/23/2021)
2021-07-29MINUTE ORDER: The Court GRANTS 30 Defendant's Consent Motion for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply re 29 MOTION for Attorney Fees. Defendant's Opposition is due by 8/13/2021. Plaintiff's Reply is due by 9/17/2021. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 7/29/2021. (lccrc2) (Entered: 07/29/2021)
2021-08-1331Memorandum in opposition to re 29 MOTION for Attorney Fees filed by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1 - 2nd Brinkmann Declaration)(Schaefer, Daniel) (Entered: 08/13/2021)
2021-09-1732REPLY to opposition to motion re 29 MOTION for Attorney Fees filed by BUZZFEED, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A)(Topic, Matthew) (Entered: 09/17/2021)
2022-04-1333OPINION AND ORDER denying 29 Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees. See full Opinion and Order for details. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 4/13/2022. (lccrc2) (Entered: 04/13/2022)
2022-06-06MINUTE ORDER: Based on the parties' representations in 25 their January 2021 Joint Status Report, the Court's 33 Opinion and Order denying Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees resolved all outstanding issues in this case. Accordingly, this case is hereby dismissed with prejudice. So Ordered by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 6/6/2022. (lccrc2) (Entered: 06/06/2022)
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