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WESTERN JOURNALISM CTR. v. OFFICE OF THE INDEP. CO

May 3, 1996

WESTERN JOURNALISM CENTER, ET AL, Plaintiffs,
v.
OFFICE OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

 This matter comes before the Court on the Independent Counsel's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs have brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA"). Plaintiffs are seeking information which relates to the death of Vincent W. Foster, in the possession of the Office of the Independent Counsel ("OIC"). Plaintiffs claim that the information has been improperly withheld. In oral argument on this motion, the Court asked the parties to brief the issue of whether the FOIA was applicable to the OIC.

 FACTS

 Background

 Mr. Foster's body was discovered in a national park in July 1993. The circumstances surrounding his death were investigated by the United States Park Police. (Kubiatowski Dec. P13). On August 10, 1993, the Park Police announced its finding that Mr. Foster had committed suicide. (Id. P) Following Mr. Foster's death, a torn-up note was discovered in his briefcase in the White House. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the note were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation("FBI"). On August 10, 1993, the FBI announced its conclusion that no criminal activity had taken place in connection with the discovery of the note. (Id. at P14).

 In August 1994, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Division for the Purpose of Appointing Independent Counsels, appointed Kenneth W. Starr as Independent Counsel under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, 28 U.S.C. §§ 591-599, as reauthorized by the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-270, 108 Stat. 732. *fn1" Mr. Starr assumed jurisdiction over all matters and investigations previously within the control of Mr. Fiske. (Id. at P18). As part of his mandate, Mr. Starr renewed the investigation into the circumstance of Mr. Foster's death. Mr. Starr also continued the investigation into the events following the death of Mr. Foster which also had been the subject of active investigation by Mr. Fiske. (Id. PP20-21).

 Plaintiffs' FOIA Request

 By letter dated July 12, 1995, Plaintiffs requested certain files and physical evidence pertaining to the investigation of the death of Mr. Foster. Plaintiffs requested 20 different categories of information including autopsy photos, investigators' notes and access to Mr. Foster's shoes. (Def. Exhibit 1). By letter dated July 25, 1995, the Independent Counsel denied Plaintiffs' request pursuant to Exemptions 7(A), which exempts the release of investigatory records that would interfere with enforcement proceedings and 7(C), which exempts the release of investigatory records to the extent that release would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and informed Plaintiffs of their right to appeal the denial (Def. Exhibit 2). On September, 22, 1995, the Independent Counsel denied Plaintiffs' appeal.

 SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

 Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings are not enough to prevent issuance of summary judgment. The adverse party's response to the summary judgment motion must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e).

 The Supreme Court set forth the governing standards for issuance of summary judgment in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In Celotex, the Supreme Court recognized the vital need for summary judgment motions to the fair and efficient functioning of the justice system:

 
Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 1....
 
Rule 56 must be construed with due regard not only for the rights of persons asserting claims and defenses that are adequately based in fact to have those claims and defenses tried to a jury, but also for the rights of persons opposing such claims and defenses to demonstrate in the manner provided by ...

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