Surgey v. Environmental Protection Agency

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA NICHOLAS SURGEY, Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 18-654 (TJK) ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Plaintiff Nicholas Surgey sued the Environmental Protection Agency under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. He seeks documents related to a trip taken by the EPA’s former Administrator to attend the 2018 Rose Bowl college football game. The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny both parties’ motions without prejudice as to (1) the adequacy of the EPA’s search, (2) the withholding of the former Administrator’s Protective Service Detail’s logistical coordination and travel details, and (3) seg- regability. But the Court will grant the EPA’s motion, and deny Surgey’s, in all other respects, including the applicability of FOIA’s Exemption 6 to additional details of the former Administra- tor’s family vacation. I. Background At the end of 2017, then-Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt left with his family for a holiday vacation. ECF No. 13-2 ¶ 7. The Pruitt family attended the 2018 Rose Bowl college football game in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day, where the University of Oklahoma Sooners lost to the University of Georgia Bulldogs. ECF No. 13-1 ¶ 9. They then spent the next couple of days at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, ECF No. 16-1 ¶ 4, appearing to stay at least one night at the Disneyland Hotel, see ECF No. 21-5 at 55–56. Plaintiff Nicholas Surgey is an investigative journalist and co-director of an organization that researches corporate influence over public policy. In January 2018, Surgey submitted a FOIA request to the EPA, seeking “[r]ecords associated with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel to and attendance at the 2018 Rose Bowl college football game, which took place on January 1, 2018 at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California.” ECF No. 13-4 at 3. The request specified that the “[r]ecords should include but should not be limited to any emails, notes, or expense reports that describe the trip to Pasadena, the Rose Bowl game, and any associated meetings or events that took place on the same trip.” Id. Surgey further instructed that the response should include “[d]etails of who paid for travel, Rose Bowl tickets, and any other associated costs incurred on this trip.” Id. Finally, according to the request, the “records should concern travel by Scott Pruitt, as well as any other EPA staff (including security staff) that traveled to Pasadena as part of the same trip or attended the game with the Administrator.” Id. Surgey received no response to his request and so he sued in March 2018. A couple of months after Surgery sued, the EPA searched for responsive records. The EPA searched Microsoft Outlook accounts, its travel system, as well as the non-Microsoft Outlook rec- ords of the former Administrator and other custodians. ECF No. 13-2 ¶¶ 8–18. Because Surgey’s request spoke only of the former Administrator’s trip to the Rose Bowl game, the agency focused its search …

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