Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Demoruelle v. Department of Veterans' Affairs

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 21, 2017

JOSEPH LOUIS DEMORUELLE and SANDRA LEE DEMORUELLE, Plaintiffs, Pro Se
v.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LESLIE E. KOBAYASHI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is pro se Plaintiffs Joseph Louis Demoruelle and Sandra Lee Demoruelle's (“Plaintiffs”) Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), filed on March 20, 2017. [Dkt. no. 14.] Defendant the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) filed its memorandum in opposition on June 20, 2017, and Plaintiffs filed their reply on June 27, 2017. [Dkt. nos. 32, 33.] The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i (“Local Rules”). Plaintiffs' Motion is hereby granted in part and denied in part for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         This case is just one of many suits that Plaintiffs have filed against the VA. See, e.g., Demoruelle v. Dep't of Veterans' Affairs, CV 16-00562 LEK-KJM; Demoruelle v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, CV 15-00246 LEK-KSC. Plaintiffs filed their Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“Complaint”) on February 21, 2017. [Dkt. no. 1.] The Complaint alleges that the VA has failed to adhere to the Freedom of Information Act's (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, twenty-day deadline for responding to appeals of denials of fee waiver requests. [Id. at ¶ 2.] Plaintiffs state that the “FOIA Officer” at the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System (“VAPIHCS”) denied a search fee waiver request on: December 19, 2016 (“12/19/16 FOIA Fee Waiver Denial”); December 21, 2016 (“12/21/16 FOIA Fee Waiver Denial”); December 23, 2016 (“12/23/16 FOIA Fee Waiver Denial”); January 4, 2017 (“1/4/17 FOIA Fee Waiver Denial”); and January 10, 2017 (“1/10/17 FOIA Fee Waiver Denial”). [Id. at ¶ 3.] Plaintiffs further allege that, while they have received acknowledgments that the VA Office of General Counsel has received their appeals of these decisions, they have not received decisions on the appeals within the twenty-day statutory deadline.[1] [Id. at ¶ 4.]

         Plaintiffs submit that they are entitled to the fee waivers because the information they are requesting is in the public interest. [Id. at ¶ 15.] Plaintiffs bring a single claim against the VA and ask the Court to find that the VA has not responded to the FOIA fee waiver requests in the required time, and that the VA has therefore waived any right to a fee from Plaintiffs or any requirement that Plaintiffs justify how their FOIA requests are in the public interest (“Count I”). [Id. at ¶ 19.] In addition to waiver of the search fees, Plaintiffs essentially seek: an order enjoining the VA from withholding responsive records sought pursuant to FOIA or the Privacy Act (“PA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552a; an order enjoining the VA from engaging in a “pattern and practice of no agency response or delayed response”; attorneys' fees and costs; and other relief the court deems appropriate. [Id. at ¶¶ 20(a)-(f).] The Motion seeks summary judgment on Count I, the requested injunctive relief, and costs of this suit. [Motion at 1-2.]

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, and the Court must construe their filings liberally. See, e.g., Pregana v. CitiMortgage, Inc., Civil No. 14-00226 DKW-KSC, 2015 WL 1966671, at *2 (D. Hawai`i Apr. 30, 2015) (“The Court liberally construes the [plaintiffs'] filings because they are proceeding pro se.” (citing Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987))). Section 552(a)(6)(A) states:

Each agency, upon any request for records made under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection, [2] shall -
. . . .
(ii) make a determination with respect to any appeal within twenty days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) after the receipt of such appeal. If on appeal the denial of the request for records is in whole or in part upheld, the agency shall notify the person making such request of the provisions for judicial review of that determination under paragraph (4) of this subsection. . . .

         The VA concedes that it did not respond to Plaintiffs' appeals within the required time, and represents that, “[f]or the purposes of this action, the VA . . . will drop any attempt to seek fees for the subject requests.”[3] [Mem. in Opp at 2-3.] Moreover, the VA states that “[P]laintiffs are entitled to recover the reasonable costs expended in pursuit of their action in federal court.” [Id. at 3.] The Court agrees. Accordingly, there is no question of material fact, and Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Count I. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Plaintiffs must submit a Bill of Costs within fourteen days of entry of judgment in this case. See Local Rule LR54.2(b).

         The Court may not grant any of the other requested relief. In addition to a FOIA fee waiver, Plaintiffs seek an order: enjoining the VA “from withholding responsive agency records under Plaintiffs' FOIA/PA requests in the future”; and enjoining the VA from engaging in a “pattern and practice of no agency response or delayed response to Plaintiffs' FOIA/PA requests.” [Complaint at ¶¶ 20(b)-(c).] The Complaint states a single claim for a FOIA fee waiver for the aforementioned appeals. See Complaint at ¶ 19 (“The suit concerns only the issues of whether [the VA] properly handled Plaintiffs' fee waiver requests”). There is no allegation pursuant to FOIA or any other statute, including the Privacy Act, that the VA has wrongfully withheld any documents.[4] Consequently, Plaintiffs have provided no grounds upon which the Court may grant the requested relief. Finally, while the Motion only seeks costs of the instant suit, the Complaint also seeks attorneys' fees. [Complaint at ¶ 20(e).] It is well-established that “a pro se litigant who is not a lawyer is not entitled to attorney's fees.” Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 435 (1991) (emphasis and footnote omitted). Accordingly, insofar as the Motion seeks such relief, it is denied.

         CONCLUSION

         On the basis of the foregoing, pro se Plaintiffs Joseph Louis Demoruelle and Sandra Lee Demoruelle's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on March 20, 2017, is HEREBY GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is granted insofar as Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on Count I and litigation costs. It is denied insofar as Plaintiffs request any additional relief. There being no remaining claims in this case, the Court DIRECTS the Clerk's Office to enter final judgment ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.