United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
O'Grady United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, Dkt. 30, and
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a
Claim. Dkt. 31. For the following reasons, the Motions are
in this case, various animal rights groups, are suing the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department
of the Interior for alleged FOIA violations. Plaintiffs have
submitted various FOIA requests regarding African elephant
and lion trophy permits dating back to January 1, 2016.
Plaintiffs argue the failure of FWS to produce the requested
permits within the statutory deadline prescribed by FOIA
constitutes a FOIA violation and seek a declaratory judgment
that FWS has violated FOIA.
also seek an injunction requiring Defendants to (1)
immediately make available via FWS' online reading room
all existing records related to Endangered Species Act (ESA)
and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) permit application materials
pertaining to trophy imports of African elephants and lions
submitted on or after January 1, 2016; (2) on an ongoing
basis to make all ESA and CITES permit application materials
pertaining to trophy imports of African elephants and lions,
records of decision for such permits, and enhancement and
non-detriment findings supporting the issuance or denial of
such permits available electronically and in a timely manner
via FWS' online reading room; and (3) order FWS to
provide an index or guide to the records it has posted and
hereafter posts online.
time Plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint, Defendants had
not yet complied with Plaintiffs' request for release of
the permits that had been issued from January 1, 2016 to
present. Since the filing of the Amended Complaint,
Defendants fulfilled Plaintiffs' FOIA request for these
permits. Defendants argue this moots the Amended Complaint as
to this declaratory judgment issue. Further, Defendants argue
FOIA's reading room provision cannot be used to force
agencies to proactively post records so Plaintiffs have
failed to state a claim.
may dismiss a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) when "a complaint simply fails to allege facts
upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based."
Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982).
Alternatively, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is appropriate
if the plaintiff cannot meet his burden of establishing a
jurisdictional basis for the suit. See Id. at 1215.
When considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion the Court must assume
all facts alleged in the complaint are true. Burke v.
AT&T Tech. Servs. Co., 55 F.Supp.2d 432, 436 (E.D.
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient
factual information to "state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell All. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007). Because a Rule
tests the sufficiency of a complaint without resolving
factual disputes, a district court '"must accept as
true all of the factual allegations contained in the
complaint' and 'draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the plaintiff.'" Kensington Volunteer
Fire Dep 't v. Montgomery County, 684 F.3d
462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting E.I. du Pont de Nemours
& Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435,
440 (4th Cir. 2011)).
case involves FOIA's reading room provision. Under this
provision, agencies are required to post certain records
online. The statute, in relevant part, states:
(2) Each agency, in accordance with published rules, shall
make available for public inspection in an electronic
(A) final opinions, including concurring and dissenting
opinions, as well as orders, made in the ...