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Rutila v. United States Department of Transportation

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 24, 2019

Harold Edward Rutila, IV, Plaintiff,
v.
United States Department Of Transportation And Federal Aviation Administration, Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the district judge's Standing Order of Reference, Doc. 50, these consolidated cases were referred to the United States magistrate judge for pretrial management. Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, Doc. 39, and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief, Doc. 51. For the reasons that follow, the motions should be GRANTED to the extent stated herein.

         I. Background

         These cases result from Plaintiff's Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests served on Department of Transportation (“DOT”) and the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”).

         Cause number 3:16-CV-2911-B-BK (“Rutila I”) stems from seven FOIA requests. Doc. 35-1 at 4, 8, 12, 18, 21, 24, 26. The FAA responded to Plaintiff's requests, Plaintiff administratively appealed those responses, Doc. 35-2 at 80, 108, 123, 134, 147, 160, and his appeals were adjudicated. Doc. 35-2 at 205-27. By his Third Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief, filed July 2017 in Rutila I, Plaintiff seeks “judicial review of Defendants' administrative appeal responses.” Doc. 35-1 at 3.

         Cause number 3:16-CV-3433-B-BK (“Rutila II”) results from three additional FOIA requests. Dkt. 24-1 at 3, 8, 10. The FAA determined that two of the requests were improper because they were overly broad, sought information that did not exist in the form of records, and sought new records. Dkt. 24-1 at 9, 12. The FAA responded to the third request, and Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal as to all three FOIA requests. Dkt. 24-1 at 6. By his First Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief, filed September 2017 in Rutila II, Plaintiff seeks “judicial review of administrative appeal.” Dkt. 24-1 at 13.

         Defendants now move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)&(b)(6) to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief in part and First Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief in its entirety. Doc. 39, Doc. 51.[1]

         II. Applicable Law

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure challenges a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, courts should consider the “jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, “a court may evaluate (1) the complaint alone, (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the Court's resolution of disputed facts.” Den Norske Stats Oljeselskap As v. HeereMac Vof, 241 F.3d 420, 424 (5th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Subject matter jurisdiction in a FOIA suit “is based upon the plaintiff's showing that an agency has (1) improperly (2) withheld (3) agency records.” Goldgar v. Office of Admin., Exec. Office of the President, 26 F.3d 32, 34 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Kissinger v. Reporters Comm'n for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150 (1980)). “Plaintiffs who do not allege any improper withholding of agency records fail to state a claim for which a court has jurisdiction under the FOIA.” Id.

         III. Rutila I

         A. Parties' Arguments

         In Rutila I, Plaintiff complains about Defendants' responses to seven FOIA requests: (1) 9143 - seeking Emails of FAA Academy Officials, (2) 9145 - seeking Madeline Bostic EEO Information, (3) 9149 - seeking FAA Academy SOPs, (4) 9150 - seeking Civil Rights SOPs, (5) 9151 - seeking ADACEL Emails, (6) 9152 - seeking Evaluation Schedules, [2] and (7) 9192 - seeking Evaluation Logs. Doc. 35-1 at 4, 8, 12, 18, 21, 24, 26. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief should be dismissed in part because (1) FOIA does not require the FAA to search offices, databases, or other sources of information where Rutila believes such records are located, (2) FOIA does not require the agency to demonstrate the adequacy of the search in its initial response, (3) Plaintiff has not identified in his administrative appeal the grounds for challenging the adequacy of the FAA's initial searches, (4) Plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts to explain why the agency's modified searches were inadequate, and (5) Rutila did not agree to pay the fee estimate with respect to request 9149. Doc. 40 at 13-19.

         Plaintiff responds, in relevant part, that (1) he has given Defendants sufficient notice of his claims by virtue of his administrative appeals, (2) “Defendants have not reliably cited any aspect of Plaintiff's Complaint where this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, ” (3) he has “alleged a well-pleaded material fact with respect to FAA's status as a ‘component' rather than as an ‘agency, '” (4) the “Court has jurisdiction over fee assessment of Request 9149, ” and (5) he has ...


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