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Joyce v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

July 9, 2001

DONALD P. JOYCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 67

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") case comes before the court upon the defendants' motion for summary judgment. See 5 U.S.C. § 552. Donald Joyce ("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Joyce"), a prisoner, seeks to compel the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") to produce copies of "all finger print cards and arrest records" concerning him. Mr. Joyce claims that the FBI has unlawfully withheld these documents, despite his requests. Under Title 28 U.S.C. section 1915(a), the court has the authority to review civil actions in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

After the court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss Mr. Joyce's FOIA claim, the FBI filed a motion for summary judgment. Pursuant to the court's order dated August 22, 2000, the defendants included a declaration from Scott A. Hodes, an FBI Attorney-Advisor, describing in sufficient detail the search for responsive records and all information withheld, including the basis for each withholding, as required by Vaughn v. Rosen, 523 F.2d 1136 (D.C. Cir. 1975). As per the court's order, the defendants stipulated that there is no segregable information *fn1 in the withheld material.

The defendants argue that the FBI has conducted a reasonable search and has provided all non-exempt, segregable information to Mr. Joyce. For the following reasons, the court will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

On March 2, 1995, Mr. Joyce filed his complaint, in which he asked the court to issue an order requiring the FBI to produce copies of "all finger print cards and arrest records" that he claimed to have sought in FOIA requests to the FBI. See Compl. at 1. On June 13, 1996, this court granted the FBI's motion to stay all proceedings in this case pursuant to Open America v. Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 547 F.2d 605, 616 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (allowing an extension of time to process a FOIA request when the agency can show that it is exercising due diligence in processing the request, but needs additional time because of a lack of resources), and ordered the FBI to submit a declaration under Vaughn v. Rosen, 523 F.2d 1136, 1146 (D.C. Cir. 1975) (requiring a detailed description of the search for responsive records and all information withheld, including the basis for each withholding or redaction).

On January 13, 1997, the FBI submitted a declaration from J. Kevin O'Brien, an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, setting forth the parameters of the search for documents responsive to the plaintiff's FOIA request and the basis for withholdings from those documents pursuant to FOIA exemptions. See O'Brien Decl. at 7, 9-14. Mr. O'Brien's declaration stated that the FBI had found 12 responsive pages and provided all 12 pages to the plaintiff, with only minor redactions pursuant to FOIA exemption 7(c). See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(c) (allowing redaction of records or information compiled for law-enforcement purposes to the extent that disclosure of such information could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy).

In September 1998, with leave of the court, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office as defendants. See First Am. Compl. at 1. On August 24, 1999, Mr. Joyce filed a second amended complaint, adding several individual FBI agents as defendants (collectively with the FBI, "the federal defendants"). In addition, Mr. Joyce alleged that as a result of this suit, the parole board retaliated against him by denying parole. See Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3. Furthermore, Mr. Joyce claimed additional statutory and constitutional violations. See Second Am. Compl. at 1, Sec. V.

In March 2000, the federal defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint, arguing that it failed to allege that the FBI had improperly withheld nonexempt material from Mr. Joyce, and that the remaining added allegations do not relate to the federal defendants. See Mot. to Dismiss at 1, 2, 7-13. On August 22, 2000, the court granted in part and denied in part the federal defendants' motion to dismiss. Specifically, the court dismissed the newly raised claims in the second amended complaint. See Mem. Op. dated 8/22/00 at 2. The court, however, did not dismiss the plaintiff's original FOIA claim. See id. In addition, the court ordered the federal defendants to file a motion for summary judgment regarding the original FOIA claim by September 29, 2000. See id. Moreover, the court directed the federal defendants to attach declarations describing in sufficient detail the search for responsive records and all information withheld, including the basis for each withholding, as per Vaughn v. Rosen, 523 F.2d 1136 (D.C. Cir. 1975). See id. at 7. The court also ordered the federal defendants to include a statement regarding the segregability of each record as per Kimberlin v. Department of Justice, 139 F.3d 944, 950 (D.C. Cir. 1998), which requires that a Vaughn index identify with specificity which information may be disclosed and which may be withheld. See id.

In response to the order issued by this court, the plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The D.C. Circuit declined to review this court's order, indicating that "non-final" orders are not subject to appellate review. See D.C. Cir. Order, Dkt. No. 00-5333 (Sept. Term, 2000).

On September 29, 2000, the federal defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The federal defendants included a declaration from Mr. Scott A. Hodes, an FBI Attorney-Advisor and Acting Chief in the Litigation Unit, Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Section in the Office of Public and Congressional Affairs at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Mr. Hodes' declaration largely reiterates the O'Brien declaration. See Decl. of Scott A. Hodes dated 9/21/00 ("Hodes Decl."). The declaration indicates that the names of a local law-enforcement officer and an FBI Special Agent are the only pieces of information that continue to be withheld from Mr. Joyce. See id. at 3. Mr. Hodes maintains that this information ...


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