The opinion of the court was delivered by: SULLIVAN
Before the Court are plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction
to compel expedited processing of his requests for documents and indexes, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq., and defendant's motion for a stay of the proceedings. Upon consideration of the pleadings, the applicable law, oral arguments, and the record herein, the Court concludes that plaintiff's motion should be granted. This Opinion shall constitute the Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).
Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff, Jesus Aguilera, contends that he was a confidential informant to the defendant-Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during the early 1980's.
According to Aguilera, his ability to provide information pertaining to a man named "Armando Lopez" (Armando), who allegedly was buying and selling illegal arms, formed the basis for Aguilera's relationship with the FBI. After a period of time, however, when the FBI was unable to substantiate any of his information, Aguilera's relationship with the FBI was severed.
On February 16, 1982, four months after Aguilera's relationship with the FBI allegedly terminated, he was arrested in New York and interrogated about two murders, one which took place in the Bronx in August 1981, and another which occurred in Manhattan in September 1981. During the twenty hours of interrogation, Aguilera allegedly confessed to both murders. According to his signed confession, Aguilera stated that "Armando" had ordered him to participate in the murders. Specifically, Aguilera stated that "Armando" forced Aguilera to carry out the Manhattan murder by threatening him with a gun.
In 1985, a New York County Supreme Court jury found Aguilera guilty of second-degree murder for the murder which took place in Manhattan;
Aguilera was sentenced to twenty-five years to life.
Subsequently, the New York Court of Appeals remanded Aguilera's case to the trial court on the grounds that he had been denied a pretrial hearing on his motion to suppress statements. People v. Aguilera, 82 N.Y.2d 23, 623 N.E.2d 519, 525, 603 N.Y.S.2d 392 (N.Y. 1993). Presently, the Supreme Court of New York County is poised to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether statements allegedly made by Aguilera during his police interrogation in 1982 should be suppressed.
In 1994, Aguilera was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He now intends to challenge the statements allegedly made by him during the 1982 police interrogation on the grounds that due to his mental incapacity then, he was particularly susceptible to police interrogation, and thus, to making false confessions. Aguilera recognizes, however, that his recent diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia can not serve as a basis to establish his mental capacity in 1982, when he allegedly made the statements inculpating himself in the Manhattan murder. Hence, Aguilera seeks documents solely within the control of the FBI during the time he was serving as an informant in an effort to establish his mental incapacity at the time he was interrogated by the police.
On April 11, 1994, in preparation for the suppression hearing, Aguilera served the FBI with a subpoena, issued by the Supreme Court of New York County, requesting all documents relating to his role as a confidential FBI informant. The FBI treated the subpoena as a declassification request and released two documents. The first released document was a copy of another document that had previously been released during Aguilera's trial for the Bronx murder. The second document released, dated October 21, 1981, was a copy of a Newark airtel in which the FBI described Aguilera as "highly unreliable and unstable" and discredited his references to "subject"
because "these allegations may be the product of his imagination." Both documents released by the FBI referred to two other documents, dated August 28, 1991 and September 1, 1981.
On May 27, 1994, plaintiff filed a FOIA request with the FBI requesting all information concerning himself. On June 7, 1994, the FBI responded to the subpoena issued by the Supreme Court of New York County by stating that "after careful review of instant demand the NYO Legal Unit has determined that neither of the specifically requested Newark teletypes is relevant." (Letter from James Roth, Principal Legal Advisor to FBI [hereinafter Roth Letter], June 7, 1994.) Furthermore, Roth stated that the "only relevant FBI document," the October 21, 1981 Newark airtel, had previously been released. Accordingly, the FBI declined to release any further documents.
Thereafter, on July 18, 1994, Aguilera filed FOIA requests with the FBI regional offices in Newark, New Jersey, Little Rock, Arkansas, Miami, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. He requested expedited processing of each request. On August 18, 1994, the FBI sent a letter to one of Aguilera's trial attorneys, in which the agency claimed that "delays in excess of one year are not uncommon" because of the 11,500 FOIA requests which need processing. (Letter from J. Kevin O'Brien, Chief of the Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Section of Information Resources Division, FBI [hereinafter O'Brien Letter].) On September 9, 1994, Kenneth Finkleman, one of Aguilera's attorneys, spoke with Linda Kloss, a staff member in the Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Section of the Information Resources Division at the FBI headquarters, about Aguilera's request for an expedited review. In a letter from J. Kevin O'Brien, dated September 13, 1994, the FBI formally denied Aguilera's request for expedition on the grounds that "based on the information he [Finkleman] furnished, it [the case] does not fall within the guidelines for expedited processing as set forth by the Department of Justice."
On October 11, 1994, Aguilera appealed the FBI's denial of his request to expedite processing to the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy, again outlining his theory of defense and the need for the documents within the control of the FBI. On October 31, 1994, the Office of Information and Privacy denied Aguilera's appeal for expedited processing of his request. In denying Aguilera's appeal, the FBI stated that the agency had considered all relevant factors, including the fact that Aguilera was involved in criminal litigation for which the requested material may be pertinent. Despite this recognition, the agency concluded that Aguilera's case did not merit expedition.
After exhausting his administrative remedies, Aguilera filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction in this Court seeking an order compelling the FBI to expedite plaintiff's FOIA request In opposition to plaintiff's motion, defendants filed a Motion for A Stay of the Proceedings. The Court presided over a hearing on both motions.