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Title 49

Displaying title 49, up to date as of 9/24/2021. Title 49 was last amended 9/13/2021.

Title 49

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Subpart D - Time Limits
§ 7.31 What time limits apply to DOT with respect to initial determinations?

(a) In general.

(1) DOT ordinarily responds to requests according to their order of receipt.

(2) DOT makes an initial determination whether to release a record requested pursuant to subpart C of this Part within twenty Federal working days after the request is received by the appropriate FOIA Requester Service Center designated in § 7.27, except that DOT may extend this time limit by up to ten Federal working days, or longer, in accordance with § 7.34. In addition, DOT may toll this time limit one time to seek additional information needed to clarify the request and as often as necessary to clarify fee issues with the requester (see § 7.35).

(3) DOT notifies the requester of DOT's initial determination. If DOT decides to grant the request in full or in part, DOT makes the record (or the granted part) available as promptly as possible and provides the requester with written notification of DOT's determination, the reasons for the determination, and the right of the requester to seek assistance from the FOIA Public Liaison. If DOT denies the request in full or in part, because the record (or the denied part) is subject to an exemption, is not within DOT's custody and control, or was not located following a reasonable search, DOT notifies the requester of the denial in writing and includes in the notice the reason for the determination, the right of the requester to appeal the determination, the name and title of each individual responsible for the initial determination to deny the request, and the requester's right to seek dispute resolution services from the FOIA Public Liaison or the Office of Government Information Services. The denial letter includes an estimate of the volume of records or information withheld, in number of pages or other reasonable form of estimation. This estimate does not need to be provided if the volume is otherwise indicated through deletions on records disclosed in part, or if providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption. DOT marks or annotates records disclosed in part to show both the amount and location of the information deleted whenever practicable (see § 7.23(d)).

(b) Multi-track processing of initial requests.

(1) A DOT component may use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex requests based on the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, or based on the number of pages involved.

(2) A DOT component using multi-track processing may provide requesters in its slower track(s) with an opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for faster processing within the specified limits of the component's faster track(s). In that event, the component contacts the requester either by telephone, letter, facsimile, or electronic mail, whichever is most efficient in each case.

(3) Upon receipt of a request that will take longer than ten days to process, a DOT component shall assign an individualized tracking number to the request and notify the requester of the assigned number. Requesters may contact the appropriate DOT component FOIA Requester Service Center to determine the status of the request.

(c) Expedited processing of initial requests.

(1) Requests are processed out of order and given expedited treatment whenever a compelling need is demonstrated and DOT determines that the compelling need involves:

(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or

(ii) A request made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information, with a time urgency to inform the public of actual or alleged Federal Government activity.

(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the initial request for records or at any later time. For a prompt determination, the request for expedited processing must be received by the FOIA office for the component that maintains the records requested, as identified in § 7.27.

(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that individual's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. A requester within the category in paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section must establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the Government activity involved in the request, beyond the public's right to know about Government activity generally.

(4) Within ten calendar days of receipt of a request for expedited processing, the proper component decides whether to grant it and notifies the requester of the decision. If DOT grants a request for expedited treatment, the request is given priority and is processed as soon as practicable. If DOT denies a request for expedited processing, any appeal of that denial is acted on expeditiously.

[79 FR 16209, Mar. 25, 2014, as amended at 82 FR 21139, May 5, 2017]

§ 7.32 What time limits apply to a requester when appealing DOT's initial or final determination?

(a) Denial of records request. When the responsible DOT official determines that a record request will be denied, in whole or in part, because the record is subject to an exemption, is not in DOT's custody and control, or was not located following a reasonable search, DOT provides the requester with the written statement described in § 7.31(a)(3).

(b) Denial of fee waiver. When the responsible DOT official denies, in whole or in part, a request for a waiver of fees made pursuant to § 7.24(b) or § 7.43(c), DOT provides the requester with written notification of that determination, the reasons for the determination, the right of the requester to appeal the determination within DOT, and the requester's right to seek assistance in resolution of disputes from the FOIA Public Liaison or Office of Government Information Services.

(c) Denial of expedited processing. When the responsible DOT official denies a request for expedited processing made pursuant to § 7.31(c), DOT provides the requester with written notice of that determination, the reasons for the determination, the right to appeal the determination within DOT, and the requester's right to seek dispute resolution services from the FOIA Public Liaison or Office of Government Information Services.

(d) Right to administrative appeal. Any requester to whom a record has not been made available within the time limits established by § 7.31 and any requester who has been provided a written determination pursuant to paragraphs (a), (b), or (c) of this section may appeal to the responsible DOT official.

(1) Each appeal must be made in writing to the appropriate DOT appeal official and postmarked or, in the case of electronic or facsimile transmissions transmitted, within ninety calendar days from the date the initial determination is signed and should include the DOT file or reference number assigned to the request and all information and arguments relied upon by the person making the request. The contact information for all DOT component appeal officials is identified in the DOT FOIA Reference Guide available at https://www.transportation.gov/foia. The envelope in which a mailed appeal is sent or the subject line of an appeal sent electronically or by facsimile should be prominently marked: “FOIA Appeal.” The twenty Federal working day limit described in § 7.33(a) will not begin to run until the appeal has been received by the appropriate office and identified as an appeal under FOIA, or would have been so identified with the exercise of due diligence, by a DOT employee.

(2) Whenever the responsible DOT official determines it is necessary, the official may require the requester to furnish additional information, or proof of factual allegations, and may order other proceedings appropriate in the circumstances. DOT's time limit for responding to an appeal may be extended as provided in § 7.34. The decision of the responsible DOT official as to the availability of the record, the appropriateness of a fee waiver or reduction, or the appropriateness of expedited processing, constitutes final agency action for the purpose of judicial review.

(3) The decision of the responsible DOT official to deny a record request, to deny a request for a fee waiver or reduction, or to deny a request for expedited processing is considered to be a denial by the Secretary for the purpose of 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B).

(4) When the responsible DOT official denies an appeal, the requester is informed in writing of the reasons for the denial of the request and the names and titles or positions of each person responsible for the determination, and that judicial review of the determination is available in the United States District Court for the judicial district in which the requester resides or has his or her principal place of business, the judicial district in which the requested records are located, or the District of Columbia.

(e) Right to judicial review. Any requester who has not received an initial determination on his or her request within the time limits established by § 7.31 can seek immediate judicial review, which may be sought without the need to first submit an administrative appeal. Any requester who has received a written determination denying his or her administrative appeal or who has not received a written determination of his or her administrative appeal within the time limits established by § 7.33 can seek judicial review. A determination that a record request is denied, that a request for a fee waiver or reduction is denied, and/or that a request for expedited processing is denied does not constitute final agency action for the purpose of judicial review unless it is made by the responsible DOT official. Judicial review may be sought in the United States District Court for the judicial district in which the requester resides or has his or her principal place of business, the judicial district in which the requested records are located, or the District of Columbia.

[79 FR 16209, Mar. 25, 2014, as amended at 82 FR 21139, May 5, 2017]

§ 7.33 What time limits apply to DOT with respect to administrative appeals (final determinations)?

(a) In general.

(1) DOT ordinarily processes appeals according to their order of receipt.

(2) DOT issues a determination with respect to any appeal made pursuant to § 7.32(d) within twenty Federal working days after receipt of such appeal, except that in unusual circumstances DOT may extend this time limit by up to ten Federal working days in accordance with § 7.34(a) or for more than ten Federal working days in accordance with § 7.34(b). DOT notifies the requester making the appeal immediately, in writing, if the agency takes an extension of time. DOT may inform the requester making the appeal, at any time, of exceptional circumstances delaying the processing of the appeal (see § 7.34(c)).

(b) Multi-track processing of appeals.

(1) A DOT component may use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex appeals based on the amount of work and/or time needed to process the appeal, or based on the amount of information involved.

(2) A DOT component using multi-track processing may provide persons making appeals in its slower track(s) with an opportunity to limit the scope of their appeals in order to qualify for faster processing within the specified limits of the component's faster track(s). A component doing so will contact the person making the appeal either by telephone, letter, facsimile, or electronic mail, whichever is most efficient in each case.

(c) Expedited processing of appeals.

(1) An appeal is processed out of order and given expedited treatment whenever a compelling need is demonstrated and DOT determines that the compelling need involves:

(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or

(ii) A request made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information, with a time urgency to inform the public of actual or alleged Federal Government activity.

(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the appeal or at a later time. For a prompt determination, a request for expedited processing must be received by the component that is processing the appeal for the records requested.

(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that individual's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. A requester within the category in paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section must establish a particular time urgency to inform the public about the Government activity involved in the request, beyond the public's right to know about Government activity generally. A person granted expedited processing under § 7.31(c) need merely certify that the same circumstances apply.

(4) Within ten calendar days of receipt of a request for expedited processing, the proper component will decide whether to grant it and will notify the requester of the decision. If a request for expedited treatment is granted, the appeal will be given priority and will be processed as soon as practicable. If a request for expedited processing of an appeal is denied, no further administrative recourse is available.

§ 7.34 When and how are time limits applicable to DOT extended?

(a) In unusual circumstances as specified in this section, DOT may extend the time limits prescribed in §§ 7.31 and 7.33 by written notice to the person making the request or appeal, setting forth the reasons for the extension and the date on which a determination is expected to be issued. Such notice may not specify a date that would result in a cumulative extension of more than ten Federal working days without providing the requester an opportunity to modify the request as noted in this section. As used in this paragraph, “unusual circumstances” means, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to the proper processing of the particular request:

(1) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request;

(2) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are demanded in a single request; and/or

(3) The need for consultation, which will be conducted with all practicable speed, with any other agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more DOT components having substantial interest therein.

(b) When the extension is for more than ten Federal working days, the written notice provides the requester with an opportunity to either modify the request (e.g., by narrowing the record types or date ranges) so that it may be processed within the extended time limit, or arrange an alternative time period with the DOT component for processing the request (e.g., by prioritizing portions of the request). The written notice also will notify the requester of the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services.

(c) The DOT component may inform the requester, at any time, of exceptional circumstances that apply to the processing of the request or appeal (e.g., if the component is reducing a backlog of requests or appeals in addition to processing current requests, or is experiencing an unexpected deluge of requests or appeals), as provided in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(C).

(d) When a DOT component reasonably believes that multiple requests submitted by a requester, or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances, and the requests involve clearly related matters, DOT may aggregate the requests for the purposes of fees and processing activities, which may result in an extension of the processing time. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters are not aggregated.

[79 FR 16209, Mar. 25, 2014, as amended at 82 FR 21140, May 5, 2017]

§ 7.35 When and how is the twenty day time limit for rendering an initial determination tolled?

The twenty Federal working day time period in which to render an initial determination will proceed without interruption except as provided in the following circumstances:

(a) DOT may toll the initial twenty Federal working day time period one time for the purpose of seeking additional information needed to clarify the request. Examples of such instances include but are not limited to:

(1) When clarification is needed with regard to the scope of a request; or

(2) When the description of the record(s) being sought does not enable the component handling the request to identify or locate the record(s).

(b) DOT may toll the initial twenty Federal working day time period as often as necessary to clarify fee issues with the requester. Examples of such instances include but are not limited to:

(1) When the requester has not sufficiently identified the fee category applicable to the request;

(2) When the requester has not stated a willingness to pay fees as high as anticipated by DOT; or

(3) When a fee waiver request is denied and the requester has not included an alternative statement of willingness to pay fees as high as anticipated by DOT.