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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit posts one today

Walsh, Dennis R. v. US Dept Veterans (ED Wis.) [5 pp.]

Before FLAUM, Chief Judge, and EVANS and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.
EVANS, Circuit Judge. In January 2002, Dennis Walsh sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs seeking “all records maintained by your agency pertaining to myself, covering the period January 1, 1973 to current date.” Walsh received a set of documents from the VA several months later. Although he also received a letter saying he had been given his “entire VA claims file,” * * *

Knowing that there were still more records, Walsh traded several letters with the Hines facility over the summer, with Walsh requesting records and the hospital denying that it had them. In September the hospital informed Walsh that his records were transferred (when, we don’t know) to Milwaukee, but the VA regional office there told Walsh it was up to him to find the records. Walsh filed an FOIA administrative appeal in December 2002. He filed this suit in March 2003. Two months later Walsh received a packet of medical records, along with a letter stating that the VA was continuing to look for additional documents. On June 24, 2003, Walsh received what he acknowledges are all the remaining records covered by his various requests. Still, Walsh went ahead with his suit, seeking a judicial declaration that he was entitled to those records, along with costs and attorney fees. The district court granted the VA’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Walsh’s claim was moot. Walsh appeals the grant of the VA’s motion and the denial of his motion for summary judgment, arguing that his claim is not moot under the FOIA and that he is entitled to judicial review under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). * * *

Walsh contends that two related exceptions to the mootness doctrine apply to his claim: cases involving “voluntary cessation,” see Milwaukee Police Ass’n v. Jones, 192 F.3d 742, 747 (7th Cir. 1999), and actions that are “capable of repetition yet evading review,” see Krislov v. Rednour, 226 F.3d 851, 858 (7th Cir. 2000). Whether either doctrine applies to this case depends on the likelihood that Walsh will request additional documents and that the VA will again fail to produce them in a timely manner. * * *

Although Walsh is correct when he argues that our ruling leaves someone making a FOIA request without recourse if an agency belatedly complies with that request, he is wrong when he argues that Congress must not have intended that result. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 10, 2005 01:03 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions