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TOPURIDZE v. UNITED STATES INFORMATION AGENCY

August 19, 1991

Georgy Topuridze, Plaintiff,
v.
United States Information Agency, Defendant, and Author Doe, Defendant-Intervenor


Charles R. Richey, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

CHARLES R. RICHEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 In this Privacy Act suit, the privacy interests of the author of a letter are diametrically opposed to the right to access of the subject of that letter. Before the Court is the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the United States Information Agency ("USIA") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). After carefully considering the instant motion, the underlying law, the submissions of the parties, and the entire record herein, the Court shall deny USIA's Motion for Reconsideration and order the release of the document pursuant to the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a.

 I. Background

 This action arose out of a request that plaintiff made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and the USIA for all documents and letters referring to him by name, which were sent to the FBI and the USIA from August, 1985 up until the date of his request. Both the FBI and the USIA located one four-page document which was responsive to plaintiff's request. The FBI and the USIA, however, both withheld the document from plaintiff pursuant to the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA"). By previous Memorandum Opinion and Order, this Court upheld the FBI's withholding of the document under both the Privacy Act and FOIA, but determined that the USIA should release the document to plaintiff. Topuridze v. FBI, et al., No. 86-3120, slip op. at 4-5 (D.D.C. Feb. 6, 1989). *fn1"

 The USIA then moved this Court pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to reconsider its previous ruling and to conduct an in camera inspection of the document at issue. The USIA asserted that the Court's examination of the document in camera would lead the Court to change its opinion as to whether the document is about the author and subject to disclosure. In addition, the USIA stated that any offers that it previously made to this Court to review the document in camera were purposely vague because of "fear that any greater public specificity regarding the contents of the document and/or the need for in camera inspection would reveal the author's identity to the plaintiff." *fn2" The USIA claimed it was particularly cautious about disclosing the identity of the document's author because such disclosure could result in acts of physical retaliation against the author. *fn3"

 Rule 60(b) enables a party to seek relief from a judgment. The purpose of the rule, however, is not "to rescue a litigant from strategic choices that later turn out to be improvident." Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc. v. Harris, 204 App. D.C. 300, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

 
This does not mean, however, that the district court is powerless to correct errors into which it is led by the parties' failure to make the key facts known. When a party timely presents a previously undisclosed fact so central to the litigation that it shows the initial judgment to have been manifestly unjust, reconsideration under rule 60(b)(6) is proper even though the original failure to present that information was inexcusable.

 Id. (citing Gray v. Estelle, 574 F.2d 209, 214-15 (5th Cir. 1978)).

 The Court questioned the litigation strategy of the USIA. Topuridze v. FBI, et al., No. 86-3120, slip. op. at 4 (D.D.C. Apr. 17, 1990). Nevertheless, the Court still concluded that "'the incessant command of the court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts,'" id. (quoting Bankers Mortgage Co. v. United States, 423 F.2d 73, 77 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 927, 26 L. Ed. 2d 793, 90 S. Ct. 2242 (1970) (emphasis in original)), justified the Court's reconsideration of its previous ruling, especially given the alleged risk of ham to the author. Topuridze, slip. op. at 4. The Court has examined the document in camera and granted the requests of the author and the plaintiff to provide in camera submissions.

 II. Analysis

 Section 3(d)(1) of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(1), provides in pertinent part:

 
Each agency that maintains a system of records shall --
 
(1) upon request by any individual to gain access to his record or to any information pertaining to him which is contained in the system, permit him . . . to review the record and have a copy made of all or any ...

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