When an agency claims it has found no responsive records, you have a right to challenge the adequacy of the search.1 An agency “must show that it made a good faith effort to conduct a search . . . using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.”2 The adequacy of an agency’s search is examined based on the search’s reasonableness given the totality of the circumstances.3
Note that an agency’s duty to conduct a “reasonably calculated” search does not require “a perfect search.”4 This means that a search is not inadequate merely because an agency failed to “turn up one specific document”5 or to “search every division within it when the agency believes that responsive documents are located in one place.”6
On appeal, you should attempt to highlight search method flaws or gaps that raise substantial doubt about the overall adequacy of an agency’s search in light of the specific circumstances.7
1 Oglesby v. U.S. Dep’t. of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 67 (D.C. Cir. 1990).
2 Id. at 68.
3 Weisberg v. U.S. Dep’t. of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984).
4 Defenders of Wildlife v. Dep’t of Agric., 311 F. Supp. 2d 44, 54 (D.D.C. 2004).
5 Iturralde v. Comptroller of Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2003).
6 Defenders of Wildlife, 311 F.Supp.2d at 56.
7 Krikorian v. Dep’t of State, 984 F.2d 461, 468 (D.C. Cir. 1993).