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Wu v. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 8, 2017

CHRISTINE M. WU, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          Dominic J. Squatrito United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Christine M. Wu (“Wu”), filed this action against the defendant, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (“NGA”), in connection with a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request Wu had made of NGA. In her Complaint, Wu claims that NGA violated her rights to information, “including intelligence surveillance, ” under FOIA. (Doc. # 1, at 2). Both parties have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Wu's motion for summary judgment is denied and NGA's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         A. FACTS

         Before reciting the facts which the Court finds to be undisputed, the Court wishes to address an issue concerning Wu's filings relating to the motions for summary judgment. The Rules of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut contain specific requirements pertaining to papers filed in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment must include a “‘Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement, ' which sets forth in separately numbered paragraphs meeting the requirements of Local Rule 56(a)3 a concise statement of each material fact as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)1. Papers opposing a motion for summary judgment must include a “‘Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, ' which states in separately numbered paragraphs meeting the requirements of Local Rule 56(a)3 and corresponding to the paragraphs contained in the moving party's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement whether each of the facts asserted by the moving party is admitted or denied.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)2.

         Each statement of material fact in a Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement, and each denial of a fact in a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, “must be followed by a specific citation to (1) the affidavit of a witness competent to testify as to the facts at trial and/or (2) evidence that would be admissible at trial. . . . The ‘specific citation' obligation of this Local Rule requires counsel and pro se parties to cite to specific paragraphs when citing affidavits . . . and to cite to specific pages when citing to deposition or other transcripts or to documents longer than a single page in length.” L. Civ. R. 56(a)3. Failure to provide this specific citation “may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted . . . .” Id.

         NGA's filings in support of its motion for summary judgment included a Notice to Pro Se Party Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment (“Notice”)(Doc. # 38-3). This Notice, which is required to be provided to a party proceeding pro se, i.e., representing oneself without the assistance of an attorney, specifically informed Wu that she was required to file the papers required by Rule 56 or run the risk of having the defendant's motion granted and having her claims dismissed without further notice if the defendant's motion shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Attached to the Notice were copies of both the federal and local rules pertaining to motions for summary judgment.

         Wu's motion for summary judgment did not include a Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement and her opposition to NGA's motion did not include a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement. After Wu filed her opposition to its motion, NGA filed a reply in which it pointed out that Wu had failed to file a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement and that Local Rule 56, a copy of which had been sent to Wu, provides in part that “failure to provide specific citations to evidence in the record as required by this Local Rule may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted . . . .” L. Civ. R. 56(a)3. Wu thereafter filed a response to NGA's reply. Wu's response includes a section with the following heading: “Plaintiff did in fact respond to defendant's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement with plaintiff's response. Defendant quoted Local Rule 56(a)2 which was to oppose a motion for summary judgment. It does not apply in the argument, because defendant ‘filed' a summary judgment.” (Doc. # 41, at 1). Wu's response did not include a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement.

         The Court is well aware that “the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d. Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, “pro se parties are not excused from abiding by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Collins v. Experian Credit Reporting Service, No. 3:04CV1905 (MRK), 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72020, at *3 (D. Conn. Oct. 3, 2006); see McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel”). In this case Wu was advised on two separate occasions of the need to comply with Local Rule 56 and specifically of the need to file a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement in conformance with the requirements of that rule. She failed to file either a Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement in support of her motion or a Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement in opposition to NGA's motion. Accordingly, to the extent that NGA's factual assertions are properly supported by the evidence the Court will deem those assertions admitted. See L. Civ. R. 56(a)3 (“failure to provide specific citations to evidence in the record as required by this Local Rule may result in the Court deeming certain facts that are supported by the evidence admitted in accordance with Rule 56(a)1”).

         NGA, which is an agency within the Department of Defense, provides geospatial-intelligence, i.e., exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical objects on the Earth. NGA has limited authority to collect domestic imagery and does not collect or process any domestic imagery unless it receives an approved request for collection from an arm of the U.S. government. On March 11, 2014, Wu submitted the following FOIA request to NGA via email:

Wanted to know if images were produced for, near, or around the location: 39 Glenbrook Rd., Stamford, CT, via any of your systems. This would be through an authorized account from the U.S. Army, accessing your systems that could produce images at close range (via satellite), and/or heat images of around/inside dwellings.
Want to know when that was done, frequency, from Dec. 2012 to date. Please check all your image producing systems.

(Doc. # 38-4, at 6). In an email response dated March 12, 2014, NGA acknowledged receipt of Wu's FOIA request and informed her that “NGA has a significant number of pending FOIA requests that prevents a response determination from being made within 20 workdays.” (Id. at 13).

         In a follow-up email sent on August 1, 2014, Wu inquired about the status of her request. NGA sent the following response on that same day:

NGA provides timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security. We are not obligated to create records, only search for government records within this agency. Based on your request and inquiry of activity at your home address, neither this agency or any other agency would be authorized ...

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