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BENNETT v. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN.

June 30, 1999

DANIEL RAY BENNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kessler, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Daniel Ray Bennett brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking to compel disclosure of records from the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 13]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 13] is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

On August 25, 1997, Plaintiff sent DEA a letter requesting information about DEA informant Andrew Chambers. Specifically, Plaintiff requested chambers' criminal history (including records of arrests, convictions, warrants, or other pending criminal cases), records of all case names, numbers, and judicial districts where he testified under oath, a list of all monies paid to him in his capacity as DEA informant, all records of instances where DEA intervened on his behalf to assist him in avoiding criminal prosecution, and all records of administrative sanctions imposed on him for dishonesty, false claims, or other deceit.

On September 5, 1997, DEA neither confirmed nor denied the existence of any records on Chambers,*fn2 and informed Plaintiff that he would need to provide either proof of death or an original authorization from Chambers in order for the request to be processed. Plaintiff appealed DEA's action to the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP"), and on November 4, 1997, OIP notified him that his appeal would be handled in the order in which it was received.

Plaintiff subsequently brought this suit on March 24, 1998. In its answer to Plaintiff's Complaint, DEA indicated it would review Plaintiff's request one more time. On September 31, 1998, DEA informed Plaintiff that it had processed thirty-three pages of material responsive to his request, and released one page in its entirety. DEA withheld the remaining thirty-two pages in their entirety pursuant to Exemptions 7(C) and 7(F), as well as Privacy Act Exemption (j)(2). 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C) and (F); 5 U.S.C. § 552a(j)(2).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgement as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgement, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

III. ANALYSIS

FOIA reflects "a general philosophy of full agency disclosure", Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360-361, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976), in order "to facilitate public access to Government documents". United States Dep't of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 173, 112 S.Ct. 541, 116 L.Ed.2d 526 (1991) (citing John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 151, 110 S.Ct. 471, 107 L.Ed.2d 462 (1989)). "[D]isclosure, not secrecy, is the dominant objective" of FOIA. Id. at 361, 96 S.Ct. 1592. The Act "requires agencies to comply with requests to make their records available to the public, unless the requested records fall within one or more of nine categories of exempt material." Oglesby v. U.S. Dept. of Army, 79 F.3d 1172, 1176 (D.C.Cir. 1996) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a), (b)).

In its Opposition, Plaintiff challenges the adequacy of DEA's search for material responsive to his request, as well as many of DEA's withholdings under Exemptions 7(C) and 7(F).

A. Adequacy of Search

FOIA requires an agency responding to a FOIA request to conduct a reasonable search using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested. Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C.Cir. 1998). The burden of proof is on the agency to show that its search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C.Cir. 1994). In meeting this burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain, in reasonable detail, the scope and method of the agency's search; "in the absence of countervailing evidence or apparent inconsistency of proof, [such affidavits] will suffice to demonstrate compliance with the obligations imposed by the FOIA." Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 127 (D.C.Cir. 1982).

DEA submitted the affidavit of Kevin Janet, Acting Chief of the Litigation Unit of the Freedom of Information Section at DEA, who explained the procedure by which the responsive records were located. According to Janet, Chambers' coded informant number was used as a search criterion in DEA's automated Confidential Source System ("CSS"), and the search ...


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