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Government and People
PRESS RELEASE – October 15, 2003
Freedom of Information Suit Filed Against Mayor William’s Administration
Howard Bray, a member of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association, today filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia for the District’s failure to search and release documents to him concerning his Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request for documents pertaining to the proposed mayoral Mansion. Mr. Bray filed his FOIA request on behalf of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association in January of this year seeking the D.C. Government’s records related to the development of a mayoral mansion on the Casey property on Foxhall Road and the transfer of jurisdiction between the National Park Service and the District of Columbia with a subsequent lease to the Casey Foundation/Casey Mansion Foundation involving property known as the Whitehaven Parkway Tract.
The D.C. Government has claimed to Mr. Bray that it has no records pertaining to his request. The D.C. Government has not explained how it can develop the mayoral mansion without any underlying records. Further, records Mr. Bray received from a FOIA request to the National Park Service indicate that D.C. Government employees sent letters and emails concerning the land transfer. Mr. Bray has asked the Court to order the D.C. Government to perform an adequate search for the requested documents and release them to him.
Mr. Bray and others have testified concerning the loss of national parkland in order to expand the proposed mayor’s mansion.
Howard Bray is represented in this lawsuit by Scott A. Hodes. Mr. Hodes, a former Department of Justice attorney, specializes in matters involving access to government records. Mr. Hodes can be reached through his website at www.infoprivacylaw.com. William Snape, Vice-President and Chief Counsel for Defenders of the Wildlife is serving as of counsel.
SUPERIOR COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
HOWARD BRAY, 1506 44th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, John Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20004
Civil Action No. _______
COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
1. This is an action under the District of Columbia’s Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), DC Code Ann. §2-531, et seq. (2001) to compel the production of records concerning the development of a mayoral mansion and a transfer of jurisdiction between the United States National Park Service and the District of Columbia with a subsequent lease to the Casey Foundation/Casey Mansion Foundation involving property known as the Whitehaven Parkway Tract.
2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to DC Code Ann § 2-537 (2001).
3. Plaintiff Howard Bray is a member of the Foxhall Community Citizens Association and the Friends of Whitehaven Park. Plaintiff is a resident of the District of Columbia. Plaintiff is the requester of the withheld records.
4. Defendant District of Columbia is the government for the District of Columbia and is in possession of the records Plaintiff seeks. Plaintiff seeks records from any and all District of Columbia offices in possession of records responsive to his request.
5. The Office of Planning and Economic Development ("OPED"), which also is called the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development ("ODMPED") is an agency of the government of the District of Columbia, and is in possession of certain of the records Plaintiff seeks.
III. STATEMENT OF FACTS
6. On February 26, 2001, Mrs. Eugene B. Casey, on behalf of the Casey Mansion Foundation, tentatively offered the District of Columbia a site on Foxhall Road in the District of Columbia to build an official residence for the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Government then entered into negotiations with the United States National Park Service and the Casey Foundation/Casey Mansion Foundation. This negotiation concerned the District of Columbia Government’s attempt to either have the National Park Service transfer or lease land adjacent to the proposed mansion to the District of Columbia. The land sought is located on a tract known as the Whitehaven Parkway.
7. By letter dated January 15, 2003, Plaintiff submitted a detailed request from the District of Columbia government for all records pertaining to the "development of a mayoral mansion on the Casey property on Foxhall Road and the proposed land exchange agreement between the National Park Service and the Casey Foundation/Casey Mansion Foundation involving the Whitehaven Parkway tract, beginning February, 20001 through present [January 15, 2003]."
8. By letter dated February 5, 2003, Defendant District of Columbia, through ODMPED, acknowledged Plaintiff’s request. The letter also mentioned a telephone conversation with the Plaintiff in which the Plaintiff agreed to extend the time period for the District of Columbia to respond to his request until February 19, 2003.
9. By letter dated March 14, 2003, Defendant District of Columbia, ODMPED responded to Plaintiff’s request by releasing one copy of an e-mail dated June 22, 1999. The e-mail was not responsive to Plaintiff’s request as it did not pertain to the subject of his request or the time period for his request.
10. Pursuant to a FOIA request to the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Plaintiff received, among other documents; 1.) A letter written by Mayor Anthony A. Williams of the District of Columbia concerning the subject matter of Plaintiff’s request to the District of Columbia Government; 2.) An e-mail from various individuals involved in the negotiations, including e-mail addresses of senior District of Columbia government officials such as Ellen.McCarthy@dc.gov, Stephen.Green@dc.gov; Eric.Price@dc.gov and 3.) A letter from the National Park Service to Mayor Williams stating that the National Park Service is working with the City to find a way for the City to acquire the piece of land the District seeks. These documents clearly indicate that the District of Columbia is in possession of records on the requested subject.
11. On May 5, 2003, Plaintiff filed with District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams, an administrative appeal of Defendant’s March 14, 2003 response. Plaintiff specifically appealed the search for records responsive to his request as inadequate.
12. On July 22, 2003, Cheryl Hobbs Newman, the Secretary for the District of Columbia, remanded Plaintiff’s request to OPED for a further search for the responsive documents. Ms. Newman’s detailed decision ordered OPED to provide a detailed written response to her order within seven (7) working days of the date of her decision.
13. By letter dated July 22, 2003, Plaintiff filed a supplemental request to the District of Columbia government for all records pertaining to the "development of a mayoral mansion on the Casey property on Foxhall Road and the proposed land exchange agreement between the National Park Service and the Casey Foundation/Casey Mansion Foundation involving the Whitehaven Parkway tract, for the time period of April 1, 2003 to July 23, 2003."
14. By letter dated September 13, 2003, Plaintiff inquired into the status of his supplemental request filed July 22, 2003 as he had not received any response to this new request.
15. By letter dated October 7, 2003, from Arnold R. Finlayson, Director of Documents and Administrative Issuances for the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia, Plaintiff received a "sworn affidavit" of Causton A. Toney of ODMPED dated September 2, 2003. This "sworn affidavit" appears to be Mr. Toney’s response to that office’s July 22, 2003 administrative appeal decision. Mr. Toney’s statement to the Secretary of the District of Columbia is that he is the FOIA Officer for ODMPED; that on a number of occasions he conducted what he considered to be a FOIA search for responsive records for both of Plaintiff’s requests; his search method was to send emails to employees of ODMPED; and that none of the employees indicated positively that they had responsive documents. Mr. Toney attached his emails sent to employees of ODMPED. Mr. Toney did not attach any of the replies from any of the individuals he sent the emails to or information on whether or not they actually received the email. Mr. Toney’s emails were sent to, among others, Stephen Green and Eric Price. Mr. Toney’s e-mails were not sent to Ellen McCarthy.
16. The District of Columbia Government has not explained to Plaintiff how it can develop a mayoral mansion and negotiate for a transfer of land without the preservation of any records.
17. Defendant’s failure to provide documents in a timely manner has severely impaired Plaintiff and others from effectively participating and testifying before government bodies such as the National Capitol Planning Commission and the City Council for the District of Columbia.
18. Plaintiff has not received any other reply from the District of Columbia Government concerning his FOIA requests.
19. Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies.
20. Plaintiff has a statutory right to the records that he seeks, and there is no legal basis for Defendant’s refusal to adequately search for and disclose these records.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff requests this Court
(1) Declare that Defendant’s refusal to adequately search for and disclose the records requested by Plaintiff is unlawful;
(2) Order Defendant to adequately search for and make the requested records available to Plaintiff;
(3) Award Plaintiff his costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in this action as provided by D.C. Code Ann. § 2-537(c) (2001); and
(4) Grant such other and further relief as this Court may deem just and proper.
Of Counsel: Scott A. Hodes
William J. Snape, III
Attorneys for Plaintiff
Dated: October 15, 2003
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