Case: The Protect Democracy Project v. U.S. Department of Energy

1:17-cv-00779 | U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Filed Date: April 27, 2017

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

When a new President is elected, a “transition team” is formed to begin the process of handing over power from the old administration to the new. As part of this process, members of the transition team interact with the staffs of federal agencies. In early December 2016, a member of the presidential transition team contacted the Department of Energy staff with questions on a variety of topics (“Questionnaire”), including a request for the names of DOE employees who had attended certain meetings…

When a new President is elected, a “transition team” is formed to begin the process of handing over power from the old administration to the new. As part of this process, members of the transition team interact with the staffs of federal agencies. In early December 2016, a member of the presidential transition team contacted the Department of Energy staff with questions on a variety of topics (“Questionnaire”), including a request for the names of DOE employees who had attended certain meetings regarding climate change. After versions of the Questionnaire leaked to the press, the transition team disavowed it.

On April 27, 2017, plaintiff, the Protect Democracy Project, Inc. filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiff sought injunctive relief compelling compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. § 552. The plaintiff is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose focus is on informing the public of operations and activities of the government by gathering and disseminating information likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of executive branch operations and activities.

On February 15, 2017, the plaintiff sent a FOIA request to the defendant seeking (1) records between employees of the defendant regarding the Presidential Transition Team Questionnaire about climate change, and (2) records regarding personnel changes, new personnel assignments and related policies by or between Department of Energy employees and the Executive Office or Presidential Transition Team. Pursuant to FOIA, the defendant was required to determine whether they would be able to comply with the request and notify the plaintiff as such within 20 days of receiving the request (March 17, 2017). By the date the plaintiff filed the complaint, no such determination had been made.

On October 12, 2017, District Judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the parties to confer and propose a schedule for proceeding in the matter, including address the status of the plaintiff’s FOIA request and the anticipated dates for release of the requested documents. On October 26, 2017, the parties submitted a joint status report to the court. According to the report, the defendant had completed three partial productions, one on June 23, 2017, one on August 31, 2017, and one on October 26, 2017. The defendant anticipated a final release of responsive records on or before December 1, 2017.

On December 15, 2017, the parties filed a second joint status report. The defendant had completed its release to the plaintiff of all responsive, non-exempt records subject to FOIA; however, the plaintiff intended to challenge the adequacy of the defendant’s search and its withholding of information under exemptions to FOIA. The parties agreed to resolve these issues through dispositive motions. On February 16, 2018, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and on March 20, 2018, the plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.

On September 17, 2018, Judge Kelly granted in part and denied in part each party’s motions for summary judgment. 330 F.Supp.3d 515. He agreed with the plaintiffs that the defendant had not undertaken an adequate search in response to the plaintiff’s first request (relating to the Questionnaire) because the defendant had searched the files of only one custodian. Therefore, he ordered the defendant to conduct an additional search that encompassed the files of additional custodians. Judge Kelly also found that the defendant’s withholdings under FOIA exemptions were properly invoked, except as to the defendant’s response to the Transition Team’s Questionnaire. He ordered the parties to file status reports as they conferred about the renewed searches and disclosures.

Between September 2018 and June 2019, the defendants produced some documents and the parties negotiated a settlement agreement. On June 27, 2019, the plaintiffs informed the court that they had reached a settlement agreement, and stipulated to dismissal of their claims.

Summary Authors

Robert Carnes (11/16/2017)

Lisa Limb (3/23/2019)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attrorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/6991346/parties/protect-democracy-project-inc-v-us-department-of-energy/


Judge(s)

Kelly, Timothy James (District of Columbia)

Lamberth, Royce C. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Berwick, Benjamin Leon (District of Columbia)

Harrison, Lindsay C (District of Columbia)

Stewart, Michael E. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Halainen, Daniel (District of Columbia)

Roth, Dena Michal (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Kelly, Timothy James (District of Columbia)

Lamberth, Royce C. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Berwick, Benjamin Leon (District of Columbia)

Harrison, Lindsay C (District of Columbia)

Stewart, Michael E. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Halainen, Daniel (District of Columbia)

Roth, Dena Michal (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

1:17-cv-00779

Docket [Pacer]

March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

Docket
1

1:17-cv-00779

Complaint

The Protect Democracy Project v. The U.S. Department of Energy

April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017

Complaint
20

1:17-cv-00779

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Sept. 17, 2018

Sept. 17, 2018

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/6991346/protect-democracy-project-inc-v-us-department-of-energy/

Last updated Aug. 30, 2022, 3:23 a.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link Date / Link
1

COMPLAINT against U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY ( Filing fee $ 400 receipt number 0090-4930393) filed by THE PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B, # 3 Exhibit C, # 4 Summons, # 5 Summons, # 6 Summons, # 7 Civil Cover Sheet)(Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 04/27/2017)

1 Exhibit A

View on PACER

2 Exhibit B

View on PACER

3 Exhibit C

View on PACER

4 Summons

View on PACER

5 Summons

View on PACER

6 Summons

View on PACER

7 Civil Cover Sheet

View on PACER

April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017

RECAP
2

LCvR 7.1 CERTIFICATE OF DISCLOSURE of Corporate Affiliations and Financial Interests by THE PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC. (Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 04/27/2017)

April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017

PACER

Case Assigned to Judge Royce C. Lamberth. (zsb)

May 1, 2017

May 1, 2017

PACER
3

SUMMONS (3) Issued Electronically as to U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney General (Attachment: # 1 Consent Form)(zsb) (Entered: 05/01/2017)

May 1, 2017

May 1, 2017

PACER
4

NOTICE of Appearance by Benjamin Leon Berwick on behalf of PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC. (Berwick, Benjamin) (Entered: 05/08/2017)

May 8, 2017

May 8, 2017

PACER
5

RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed as to the United States Attorney. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney on 5/8/2017. Answer due for ALL FEDERAL DEFENDANTS by 6/7/2017. (Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 06/02/2017)

June 2, 2017

June 2, 2017

PACER
6

RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed on United States Attorney General. Date of Service Upon United States Attorney General 05/08/2017. (Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 06/02/2017)

June 2, 2017

June 2, 2017

PACER
7

RETURN OF SERVICE/AFFIDAVIT of Summons and Complaint Executed. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY served on 5/26/2017 (Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 06/05/2017)

June 5, 2017

June 5, 2017

PACER
8

ANSWER to 1 Complaint by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY.(Roth, Dena) Modified to add link on 6/8/2017 (znmw). (Entered: 06/07/2017)

June 7, 2017

June 7, 2017

PACER

Case directly reassigned to Judge Timothy J. Kelly. Judge Royce C. Lamberth is no longer assigned to the case. (ztnr)

Sept. 15, 2017

Sept. 15, 2017

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: Before the Court in this FOIA case are a complaint and an answer. The requirements of LCvR 16.3 and Rule 26(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure appear to be inapplicable. It is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall meet and confer and propose a schedule for proceeding in this matter. The schedule shall address the status of Plaintiff's FOIA request, the anticipated number of documents responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request, the anticipated date(s) for release of the documents requested by Plaintiff, whether a motion for an Open America stay is likely in this case, whether a Vaughn index will be required in this case, whether and when either party anticipates filing a dispositive motion, and any other pertinent issues. The parties shall file a joint status report that addresses these issues and that contains a proposed schedule and proposed order not later than 10/26/17. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 10/12/2017. (lctjk1)

Oct. 12, 2017

Oct. 12, 2017

PACER

Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 10/26/2017. (kh)

Oct. 13, 2017

Oct. 13, 2017

PACER
9

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 10/26/2017)

Oct. 26, 2017

Oct. 26, 2017

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 9 Joint STATUS REPORT dated October 26, 2017, it is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a joint status report proposing a schedule for further proceedings by the earlier of December 15, 2017, or fourteen days following Defendant's final release of non-exempt responsive records, unless a stipulation of dismissal is filed before that time. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 10/27/2017. (lctjk2)

Oct. 27, 2017

Oct. 27, 2017

PACER
10

NOTICE of Appearance by Daniel J. Halainen on behalf of U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (Halainen, Daniel) (Entered: 12/01/2017)

Dec. 1, 2017

Dec. 1, 2017

PACER
11

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Halainen, Daniel) (Entered: 12/15/2017)

Dec. 15, 2017

Dec. 15, 2017

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 11 Joint Status Report, it is hereby ORDERED that the following schedule shall govern the filing of dispositive motions in this case: Defendant shall file its motion for summary judgment by February 16, 2018. Plaintiff shall file its cross-motion for summary judgment and opposition to Defendant's motion by March 20, 2018. Defendant shall file its reply in support of its motion and its opposition to Plaintiff's motion by April 19, 2018. Plaintiff shall file its reply by May 3, 2018. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 12/18/2017. (lctjk2)

Dec. 18, 2017

Dec. 18, 2017

PACER
12

MOTION for Summary Judgment by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (Attachments: # 1 Memorandum in Support, # 2 Declaration, # 3 Exhibit Exhibits to Declaration, # 4 Statement of Facts, # 5 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 02/16/2018)

Feb. 16, 2018

Feb. 16, 2018

PACER
13

Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment, Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement, and Statement of Material Facts by PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC. (Attachments: # 1 Declaration of Michael E. Stewart, # 2 Exhibits to Stewart Declaration, # 3 Text of Proposed Order)(Harrison, Lindsay) (Entered: 03/20/2018)

March 20, 2018

March 20, 2018

PACER
14

Memorandum in opposition to re 12 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC.. (See Docket Entry 13 to view document). (znmw) (Entered: 03/21/2018)

March 20, 2018

March 20, 2018

PACER
15

Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to File Response/Reply by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 04/17/2018)

April 17, 2018

April 17, 2018

PACER

MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 15 Motion for Extension of Time. It is hereby ORDERED, for good cause shown, that Defendant's motion is GRANTED. Defendant shall file its reply in support of its motion for summary judgment and its opposition to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment by May 31, 2018. Plaintiff shall file its reply by June 14, 2018. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 4/18/2018. (lctjk2)

April 18, 2018

April 18, 2018

PACER
16

Memorandum in opposition to re 13 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment, filed by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit, # 2 Statement of Facts)(Roth, Dena) . (Entered: 05/31/2018)

May 31, 2018

May 31, 2018

PACER
17

REPLY to opposition to motion re 12 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit, # 2 Statement of Facts Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Facts)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 06/01/2018)

June 1, 2018

June 1, 2018

PACER
18

NOTICE of Appearance by Michael E. Stewart on behalf of PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC. (Stewart, Michael) (Entered: 06/13/2018)

June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018

PACER
19

REPLY to opposition to motion re 13 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment, Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgement, and Statement of Material Facts filed by PROTECT DEMOCRACY PROJECT, INC.. (Attachments: # 1 Supplemental Declaration of Michael E. Stewart, # 2 Exhibits to Supplemental Declaration of Michael E. Stewart)(Stewart, Michael) (Entered: 06/14/2018)

June 14, 2018

June 14, 2018

PACER
20

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part Defendant's 12 Motion for Summary Judgment, and granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's 13 Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. The parties shall promptly meet and confer regarding additional custodians and appropriate search terms for Defendant's search in response to Plaintiff's first request. Joint status reports due on October 17, 2018, and every thirty (30) days thereafter until Defendant has released all nonexempt, responsive material. Within thirty (30) days after Defendant has completed its final release, the parties shall meet, confer, and file a joint report as set forth in the Court's Order. See Opinion and Order for details. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 9/17/2018. (lctjk2) (Entered: 09/17/2018)

Sept. 17, 2018

Sept. 17, 2018

RECAP
21

NOTICE of Change of Address by Dena Michal Roth (Roth, Dena) (Entered: 09/27/2018)

Sept. 27, 2018

Sept. 27, 2018

PACER
22

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 10/17/2018)

Oct. 17, 2018

Oct. 17, 2018

PACER
23

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 11/16/2018)

Nov. 16, 2018

Nov. 16, 2018

PACER
24

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 12/17/2018)

Dec. 17, 2018

Dec. 17, 2018

PACER
25

MOTION to Stay by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 01/14/2019)

Jan. 14, 2019

Jan. 14, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: It is hereby ORDERED that the deadline for the parties to submit their next joint status report is EXTENDED to February 18, 2019. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 1/14/2019. (lctjk2)

Jan. 14, 2019

Jan. 14, 2019

PACER

Set/Reset Deadlines: Joint Status Report due by 2/18/2019. (kh)

Jan. 15, 2019

Jan. 15, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER denying Defendant's 25 Motion to Stay. In light of the restoration of funding to the Department of Justice, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's motion is DENIED AS MOOT. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 1/29/2019. (lctjk2)

Jan. 29, 2019

Jan. 29, 2019

PACER
26

Unopposed MOTION for Extension of Time to file Joint Status Report by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 02/11/2019)

Feb. 11, 2019

Feb. 11, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER granting Defendant's 26 Unopposed Motion for Extension of Time. It is hereby ORDERED, for good cause shown, that Defendant's motion is GRANTED. The deadline for the parties to submit their next joint status report is EXTENDED to February 22, 2019. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 2/11/2019. (lctjk2)

Feb. 11, 2019

Feb. 11, 2019

PACER
27

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 02/22/2019)

Feb. 22, 2019

Feb. 22, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 27 Joint Status Report, it is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a further joint status report by March 25, 2019, updating the Court on the progress of their settlement negotiations. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 2/22/2019. (lctjk2)

Feb. 22, 2019

Feb. 22, 2019

PACER
28

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 03/25/2019)

March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

PACER

.Order

March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

PACER

~Util - Set/Reset Deadlines

March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 28 Joint Status Report, it is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a further joint status report by April 24, 2019, updating the Court on the progress of their settlement negotiations. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 3/25/2019. (lctjk2)

March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

PACER
29

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 04/24/2019)

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

PACER

~Util - Set/Reset Deadlines

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

PACER

.Order

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 29 Joint Status Report, it is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a further joint status report by May 28, 2019, updating the Court on the progress of their settlement negotiations. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 4/24/2019. (lctjk2)

April 24, 2019

April 24, 2019

PACER
30

Joint STATUS REPORT by U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. (Attachments: # 1 Text of Proposed Order)(Roth, Dena) (Entered: 05/28/2019)

May 28, 2019

May 28, 2019

PACER

~Util - Set/Reset Deadlines

May 28, 2019

May 28, 2019

PACER

.Order

May 28, 2019

May 28, 2019

PACER

MINUTE ORDER: In light of the parties' 30 Joint Status Report, it is hereby ORDERED that the parties shall file a further joint status report by June 27, 2019, updating the Court on the progress of their settlement negotiations, unless a stipulation of dismissal is filed sooner. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 5/28/2019. (lctjk2)

May 28, 2019

May 28, 2019

PACER
31

Stipulation of Dismissal

June 27, 2019

June 27, 2019

RECAP

Case Details

State / Territory: District of Columbia

Case Type(s):

Presidential/Gubernatorial Authority

Special Collection(s):

Trump Administration FOIA cases

Multi-LexSum (in sample)

Key Dates

Filing Date: April 27, 2017

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The Plaintiff is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose focus is on informing the public of operations and activities of the government by gathering and disseminating information likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of executive branch operations and activities.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

U.S. Department of Energy (District of Columbia), Federal

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Required disclosure