Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

LAF v. Department of Veterans Affairs

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 27, 2018

LAF, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ruben Castillo, Chief Judge

         LAF ("Plaintiff) filed this lawsuit to enjoin the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' ("Defendant") alleged practice of processing requests for information submitted pursuant to both the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 522a, exclusively under the Privacy Act. (R. 17, Am. Compl.) Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), Defendant moves to dismiss this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, respectively. (R. 18, Mot. at 1.) For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Defendant's motion, BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to persons living in poverty. (R. 17, Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) Within Plaintiffs organization are four attorneys who provide legal services to veterans living in Illinois and who regularly request records maintained by Defendant. (Id.) Defendant is a federal agency that maintains records concerning veterans and benefits claimed by veterans. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         On February 16, 2017, Plaintiff sent a request for information to Defendant pursuant to both FOIA and the Privacy Act on behalf of Rebecca Moss ("Moss"), a veteran, seeking all documents in her "VA claims folder." (R. 17-1, Feb. 16, 2017, FOIA/Privacy Act Request at 1.) On March 8, 2017, Defendant acknowledged that it received the request and informed Plaintiff that the request would be processed exclusively under the Privacy Act. (R. 17, Am. Compl. ¶ 14; R. 17-1, Def's March 8, 2017, Letter at 1-2.) On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant that objected to Defendant's decision to process Plaintiffs request for information only under the Privacy Act. (R. 17, Am. Compl. ¶ 16; R. 17-1, PL's March 29, 2017, Letter at 1-2.) Plaintiff stated in its letter that Defendant was required to process the request under FOIA and the Privacy Act simultaneously. (R. 17-1, PL's March 29, 2017, Letter at 1.) After receiving no response from Defendant, Plaintiff filed its initial complaint in this case on July 7, 2017. (R. 17, Am. Compl. ¶ 21.)

         On September 1, 2017, Defendant sent Moss' claims file to Plaintiff as Plaintiff requested in its February 16, 2017, dual FOIA/Privacy Act request. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff claims that although Defendant provided Plaintiff with the information it requested concerning Moss, Defendant continues to process Plaintiffs requests for information only under the Privacy Act even though those requests are being made pursuant to both FOIA and the Privacy Act. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has responded in a similar manner on five other occasions, and has taken the same approach for similar requests issued by other organizations throughout the United States. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 40.) Plaintiff avers that Defendant's processing of such requests only under the Privacy Act is part of a pattern or practice in which Defendant refuses to comply with FOIA and deprives Plaintiff of its rights under FOIA. (Id. ¶¶ 40-50.)

         Plaintiff claims that this practice will impair access to Defendant's records. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff allegedly has seven dual FOIA/Privacy Act requests pending with Defendant and intends to issue another such request for one more client. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) Defendant allegedly responded to three of the seven pending requests by stating that those requests would be processed only under the Privacy Act. (Id.) Plaintiff expects that its other pending and future requests for information will also be subjected to Defendant's alleged practice and processed exclusively under the Privacy Act. (Id.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 7, 2017, Plaintiff and then-plaintiff Moss filed the initial complaint in this action alleging that Defendant violated FOIA. (R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 22-53.) On September 29, 2017, Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the lawsuit was moot and that Plaintiff and Moss failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to bringing the lawsuit. (R. 11, Mot. at 1.) On October 11, 2017, the Court dismissed the initial complaint without prejudice and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (R. 16, Min. Entry.) Thereafter, on November 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (R. 17, Am. Compl.)

         The amended complaint terminated Moss as a plaintiff, and asserts one count against Defendant that claims Defendant institutes a policy or practice of violating FOIA by processing dual FOIA/Privacy Act requests exclusively under the Privacy Act. (Id. ¶¶ 27-51.) On December 1, 2017, Defendant filed the present motion to dismiss the first amended complaint. (R. 18. Mot.) Defendant once again argues that the lawsuit is moot and that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because Defendant provided Plaintiff with the information concerning Moss that it requested. (R. 19, Mem. at 3.) In support, Defendant attaches the declaration of Richard Ivy ("Ivy"), the acting chief of Defendant's Records Management Center, stating that he delivered to Plaintiff the requested documents concerning Moss. (R. 19-1, Ivy Decl, at 1.) Defendant also argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim because Defendant lawfully processed Plaintiffs requests for information under the Privacy Act instead of FOIA. (R. 19, Mem. at 4-8.) Finally, Defendant contends that its alleged delay in providing information cannot, by itself, give rise to a pattern or practice of violating FOIA. (Id. at 8-10.)

         In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's decision to process requests for information under the Privacy Act does not relieve Defendant of its obligation to comply with FOIA. (R. 22, Resp. at 4-13.) Plaintiff also submits that it sufficiently alleges a claim under FOIA because it alleges that Defendant wholly disavows of any obligation to comply with FOIA instead of simply delaying responses to FOIA requests. (Id. at 2-4.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         "Federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction when a case becomes moot." Pakovich v. Verizon LTD Plan, 653 F.3d 488, 492 (7th Cir. 2011). Therefore, "[m]ootness is evaluated under Rule 12(b)(1)[.]"v4 Custom Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. v. Kabbage, Inc., No. 16 C 2513, 2017 WL 2619144, at *2-3 (N.D. 111. June 16, 2017) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) challenges this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Defendant's Rule 12(b)(1) motion is properly understood as a factual challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction because it relies on evidence-namely, Ivy's declaration-to show that Plaintiffs claim is moot. See Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173 (7th Cir. 2015) ("A factual challenge contends that there is in fact no subject matter jurisdiction, even if the pleadings are formally sufficient." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). "In reviewing a factual challenge, the court may look beyond the pleadings and view any evidence submitted to determine if subject matter jurisdiction exists." Id. "[A] plaintiff faced with a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss bears the burden of establishing that the jurisdictional requirements have been met." Ctr. for Dermatology & Skin Cancer, Ltd. v. Burwell, 770 F.3d 586, 588-89 (7th Cir. 2014).

         "A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer,796 F.3d 822, 825 (7th Cir. 2015) (citation and internal alteration omitted). "Although detailed factual allegations are unnecessary, the complaint must have 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."' Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc.,818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "To rise above the speculative level of plausibility, the complaint must make more than threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Oakland Police & Fire Ret. Sys. v. Mayer Brown, LLP, 861 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir. 2017) (citation, internal alteration, and ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.