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Rojas v. Federal Aviation Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 26, 2019

Jorge Alejandro Rojas, Plaintiff,
v.
Federal Aviation Administration, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          G. MURRAY SNOW, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Jorge Alejandro Rojas' Motion Re Estimated Completion Dates (Doc. 81). For the following reasons the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         The current motion continues a long-lived dispute between Rojas and the FAA regarding the many requests Rojas has submitted to the FAA under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Rojas' Complaint contained multiple allegations regarding Rojas' FOIA requests, but his allegations broadly fall within two groups. First, Rojas listed six specific FOIA requests and generally alleged that the FAA failed to timely provide estimated completion status updates, that it failed to adequately respond, and that it failed to respond to his appeals of its production decisions. (See Doc. 1 at 3-11.) Next, Rojas alleged that the FAA had established a pattern or practice of failing to provide estimated completion dates (“ECDs”) for his requests. He specifically alleged eight FOIA requests, “among others, ” for which he had not received estimated completion dates.

         Rojas brought three separate claims: (1) a FOIA violation through failure to comply with statutory deadlines, (2) a FOIA violation through withholding of agency records, and (3) a FOIA and Administrative Procedure Act violation through failure to provide ECDs and “complete administrative action.” (See Id. at 12-13.) Rojas requested seven forms of relief: orders requiring (1) reasonable searches for responsive records, (2) provision of ECDs, (3) disclosure of all responsive non-exempt records, (4) production of a Vaughn Index, (5) production of records without assessment of fees, (6) a special investigation under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(F), and (7) the payment of attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 14.)

         The FAA moved for summary judgment on the first group of FOIA requests-i.e., the six named requests in the first group. The Court granted summary judgment for three requests and denied for three requests. (Doc. 26.) A status conference followed, at which the Court determined that the FAA had waived its right to raise additional objections to Rojas' FOIA requests by not raising them in its summary judgment motion. (See Doc. 48 at 2.) The Court also ordered the FAA to provide responsive documents for Requests 8952, 9570, and 4019, with redactions only if agreed to by Rojas. (Id. at 3.)

         The FAA requested an extension of time to fully respond to Request 9570, which the Court granted. But rather than timely providing documents for Requests 8952 and 4019, the FAA provided responses to all three requests by the extended deadline granted for Request 9570 only. (See id.) When it provided the documents, the FAA had made redactions to which Rojas had not agreed, in direct violation of the Court's order. (Id.)

         At the next status conference, the Court denied the FAA's request for a second round of summary judgment motions. The Court also gave the FAA thirty more days to respond to Rojas' document request. The FAA soon filed notice that it had complied. But again, the documents had extensive redactions to which Rojas had not agreed. So, the Court ordered the FAA to show cause as to why it should not be held in civil contempt for violating the Court's orders on multiple occasions. (Id. at 6.) The Court also directed the parties to meet and attempt good faith resolution of the remaining issues without further court intervention. (Id.) The show-cause hearing was continued and eventually vacated when the parties indicated that the FAA was finally in compliance with the Court's orders. (See Doc. 56 at 1.) The parties' next joint status report indicated that the FAA would be making supplemental responses to some of Rojas' requests, and that the parties were again disputing whether the FAA had provided all responsive documents. (Doc. 58 at 2.) The Court ordered the FAA to provide supplemental responses. (Doc. 59.)

         In the next round of joint status reports, the parties indicated that the following issues remained outstanding in the case: (1) whether the FAA had engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to provide ECDs to Rojas' requests, (2) whether the FAA should be sanctioned for its conduct, (3) whether Rojas was entitled to attorneys' fees and costs, and (4) whether a referral for investigation by the Office of Special Counsel was warranted. (Doc. 68 at 2-3.)

         At the subsequent hearing, the Court ordered the FAA to provide ECDs for all outstanding requests that had been submitted by Rojas by the time he filed his Complaint. (Doc. 73 at 10.) The FAA complied. (See Doc. 74.) The Court then directed Rojas to file notice of his disagreement with the ECDs provided, if any, and a motion regarding the ECDs, if needed. (Doc. 80.) Rojas then filed this motion. (Doc. 81.) After Rojas filed it, the parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal, in which they agreed to dismiss all issues in the case except for those addressed by the current motion regarding the ECDs.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Modification of ECDs and Late Production

         The FOIA requires agencies to “establish a telephone line or Internet service that provides information about the status of a request to the person making the request using the assigned tracking number, including . . . an estimated date on which the agency will complete action on the request.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(7)(B).

         Rojas' primary contention here is that in some instances, the FAA has unreasonably revised its initial ECDs and that in other instances the FAA has failed to meet the ECDs it gave. As ordered by this Court, the FAA provided ECDs to Rojas. Many of the ECDs have now passed and Rojas has received documents responsive to his requests. As of the date of the FAA's response to Rojas' motion, 71.15% of the 104 ECDs had been completed, ...


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