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To sue or not to sue: that is the question

Plaintiff Conspiracy?

I have always considered myself a commenter on the Birther movement, not a participant. But I did one active thing: in January of 2009 I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the passport issuance records of Barack Obama’s mother. I’ve written a series of articles chronicling my attempts over two and a half years to get a satisfactory response to a simple query:

In order to sue the Government under the Freedom of Information Act, one must first exhaust all administrative remedies. In my case, the Department of State failed to respond to my initial request with the time period set by statute, and under the law I had exhausted my administrative remedies at that time. However, I didn’t know the statutory requirement back then, and when the DoS eventually did reply the following April that they had accepted my request and would begin searching, I lost my right to sue.

However, the opportunity has arisen again. I received a letter from the Department of State today regarding my appeal which says in part:

Federal regulations provide that a requester shall be deemed to have exhausted his/her administrative remedies if an agency fails to respond to an appeal with the twenty-day time period, and the requester may then immediately seek judicial review. Thus, since the twenty-day period has elapsed, you are free to seek judicial review should you wish to do so.

I filed my appeal in December of 2010, and it has indeed been more than 20 days.

To sue or not to sue: that is the question

20 Responses to To sue or not to sue: that is the question

  1. avatar
    US Citizen June 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    My 2 cents is not to sue.
    You don’t actually need the answer and the courts are tied up enough.

  2. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    US Citizen: You don’t actually need the answerand the courts are tied up enough.

    Blogging is my hobby and the information is necessary to pursue my hobby. The purpose of the lawsuit is to show that Stanley Ann Dunham either had or didn’t have a passport in 1961 and either could or could not have traveled to Kenya.

    I am in some sympathy with the courts being tied up, but the responsibility for tying them up must lie with the Department of State who has been avoiding their statutory responsibility. Let’s not blame the victim.

  3. avatar
    bjphysics June 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Doc,

    Give the guy above a lecture on double posting.

  4. avatar
    Thrifty June 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    It seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for your hobby. If you needed this information for some vital, work related research, I’d say go for it. Doesn’t seem worth the time and expense to me. But that’s just my 2 cents.

  5. avatar
    Dave June 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    So the response you got to your appeal is a letter telling you that since they didn’t respond, you have a right to sue. Maybe it’s just me, but one gets the impression that this is a standard policy. After all, most people aren’t going to want to spend the money to sue, so this would really cut down on the number of appeals they have to deal with.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Dave: After all, most people aren’t going to want to spend the money to sue, so this would really cut down on the number of appeals they have to deal with.

    No, the administrative appeal will go on; they just won’t so much as give me a hint when they will get around to it.

    The initial incomplete response I received took 22 months, where a similar FOIA for similar information entered about the same time as mine took (and this is from memory) around 4 months.

  7. avatar
    US Citizen June 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Doc,
    It’s true you’d have more evidence that birthers are wrong regarding one particular belief, but we all know this wouldn’t change most of their minds.
    They’d just espouse some other belief(s) and go on their nutty way.
    It would be nice to have every theory denounced with a factual answer, but it’s like plugging a leaky boat when it comes to birthers.
    I guess I just don’t understand how you’d be a victim here.
    It seems you still have an enormous body of work and nothing to be ashamed about if incomplete.
    You’ve been right 99% of the time.
    That compared to, say, Orly, is huge.
    (She’s never been right yet.)

  8. avatar
    Expelliarmus June 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    Doc, I think the nail in the born-in-Kenya coffin already took place with the release of Obama Sr’s immigration file, showing that he was physically in Hawaii, attending summer school, at the time of Barack Obama’s birth. As crazy as the trip to Kenya theory was, it is even more insane for anyone to think that Ann Dunham chose to travel alone.

    You might want to see if you can chat with the author of the biography of Ann Dunham (A Singular Woman, by Janny Scott) — you never know what she might have run across in her research.

    Keep in mind that if Ann Dunham did have a passport prior to Obama’s birth, it wouldn’t mean that she had gone to Kenya — but birthers would cite that as evidence in their favor. There are many reasons she might have had a passport — just as I have pointed out that there is no particular reason to assume that Barack Obama didn’t happen to spend time in Connecticut as a teenager, there is no particular reason to assume that Ann & her parents never traveled abroad while she was growing up.

    Obviously if you could prove definitively that she did NOT have a passport prior to the first trip to Indonesia, you’d have another scrap of evidence to nullify an already thoroughly debunked theory. But what if your FOIA lawsuit resulted in a report that the records were lost or destroyed? Nothing makes a conspiracy theorist happier than the knowledge that there is some point of fantasy that can’t be refuted because the records reportedly do not exist.

  9. avatar
    Eglenn harcsar June 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    Hi doc,

    Many of your readers would likely pass on the link below on principle; however, Leo Donofrio’s recent post seems to be in conversation with your plight.

    http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com/#!/page/1

  10. avatar
    Keith June 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Eglenn harcsar:
    Hi doc,

    Many of your readers would likely pass on the link below on principle; however, Leo Donofrio’srecent post seems to be in conversation with your plight.

    http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com/#!/page/1

    Yes, it specifically refers to Doc’s FOIA request while slamming it as untrustworthy and insufficient.

    Definiately a ‘conversation’. 😉

  11. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    Expelliarmus: But what if your FOIA lawsuit resulted in a report that the records were lost or destroyed?

    We would be no worse difficulty than we are now, because the passport applications for the time period WERE destroyed, as determined by Strunk’s FOIA and what I received for mine. The issue cards, however, are known to have been microfilmed and based on public documents, I have strong reason to believe that these still exist.

  12. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Keith: Yes, it specifically refers to Doc’s FOIA request while slamming it as untrustworthy and insufficient.

    Donofrio is just too full of himself to admit that somebody thought of asking for issuance records before he did.

  13. avatar
    Mary Brown June 16, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    I think it important that citizens are informed. Do you remember the saying “if you don’t use it you lose it.?” I know this is not an issue that will determine the course of history but I think it important to have access to information that is in the public domain.

  14. avatar
    ellen June 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    My suggestion, for what it is worth, is to ask the White House nicely to ask the State Department to accelerate the process or to release the documents to them and they would then release the documents to you.

    (I suppose birthers would ask for a better chain of custody than the latter. But you probably could work out something.)

    I am in strong agreement with you that Stanley Ann Obama was very unlikely to have had a US passport in 1961, and it is to the White House’s interest to have that fact public knowledge. By the way, I have always thought that the easy way to determine whether or not she had a passport in 1961 was to find out the date at which the first State Department passport file on her was opened. It is unlikely that a file would have been created before she applied for her first US passport.

  15. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    ellen: My suggestion, for what it is worth, is to ask the White House nicely to ask the State Department to accelerate the process or to release the documents to them and they would then release the documents to you.

    I asked my Senator to intervene ages ago. No effect. The White House has not responded to any of my birther-related questions or comments. I’ll either have to sue or wait. I could do both.

  16. avatar
    ellen June 17, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    How about trying the campaign? Axelrod has left the WH and gone to the campaign, in Chicago, I think. When you think about it, that’s what the campaign and the WH are in fact supposed to do. The WH is not supposed to concentrate on political matters except when absolutely necessary, and the campaign is supposed to.

  17. avatar
    Keith June 17, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    ellen:
    How about trying the campaign? Axelrod has left the WH and gone to the campaign, in Chicago, I think. When you think about it, that’s what the campaign and the WH are in fact supposed to do. The WH is not supposed to concentrate on political matters except when absolutely necessary, and the campaign is supposed to.

    This isn’t political. It’s morbid curiosity. Nothing more.

  18. avatar
    ellen June 17, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Re: “This isn’t political. It’s morbid curiosity. Nothing more.”

    If so, I must admit I have the same curiosity. I believe that Obama’s mother did not have a US passport in 1961. Hence all birther speculation is stupid. Although I believe that birthers would continue to spew, there would be something satisfying in showing that she did not have a US passport and hence could not have given birth in a foreign country.

  19. avatar
    Sef June 17, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    ellen:
    Re: “This isn’t political. It’s morbid curiosity. Nothing more.”

    If so, I must admit I have the same curiosity. I believe that Obama’s mother did not have a US passport in 1961. Hence all birther speculation is stupid. Although I believe that birthers would continue to spew, there would be something satisfying in showing that she did not have a US passport and hence could not have given birth in a foreign country.

    They would just say that she traveled without a passport so that there would be no record of birth outside the country to spoil the birth registration in HI. You can’t win wiith these people.

  20. avatar
    ellen June 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Re:

    “They would just say that she traveled without a passport so that there would be no record of birth outside the country to spoil the birth registration in HI. You can’t win wiith these people.”

    I’m sure some of them would actually say what you predict. But that is not the point. The point is that by finding out that Obama’s mother did not have a US passport, the logic of her not being able to have traveled to foreign countries (except perhaps to Mexico and Canada) would be obvious to the normal person.

    Birthers are not normal persons, but this proof would remove any chance of them infecting normal people.