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DALE v. EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

September 25, 2001

BILLY RAY DALE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
I. INTRODUCTION
This case poses a distinct legal question: whether the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a ("the Privacy Act"), applies to the White House. Billy Ray Dale ("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Dale"), the former Director of the White House Travel Office, argues that it does. The plaintiff sued the Executive Office of the President ("the defendant" or "the EOP") under the Privacy Act, seeking any and all files that it maintained on him. Declaring that the Privacy Act was not intended to cover the White House, the EOP denied the plaintiff's request.
The defendant now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Specifically, the defendant argues that Congress meant for the Privacy Act to apply only to "agencies," and that those components of the EOP whose sole function is to advise and assist the President are not "agencies" for purposes of the Privacy Act. The court agrees with the defendant. Thus, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff's Privacy Act claims and will grant the defendant's motion.
II. BACKGROUND
Billy Ray Dale is the former Director of the White House Travel Office. See Compl. ¶ 3; Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2. In 1993, when President Clinton took office, Mr. Dale had been the Director of the White House Travel Office ("Travel Office") for 11 years, and had worked in the Travel Office in various capacities for almost 32 years. See Compl. ¶ 3. On May 19, 1993, the White House fired Mr. Dale. See Def.'s Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Def.'s Mot.") at 3. Subsequently, Mr. Dale was indicted on charges of financial improprieties in managing the Travel Office. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2. In November 1995, Mr. Dale was acquitted of all charges. See id.
The media expressed a keen interest in the story of the firing of the seven Travel Office employees, and dubbed the episode "Travelgate." See id. at 2. In 1993, Congress began conducting hearings into the matter, and, on September 26, 1996, the House of Representatives issued a lengthy report on the subject that was critical of the Clinton White House. See Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 2. Former Attorney General Janet Reno also appointed an independent counsel to investigate whether any high-level White House official had engaged in criminal wrongdoing in this matter. In June 2000, Robert Ray, the independent counsel, issued a summary of his final report and announced that his office would not seek to prosecute any individuals involved in the matter. See, e.g., Editorial, Unindicted, but Not Cleared, Washington Post, June 23, 2000 at A30.
Mr. Dale alleges that during the course of these various investigations, he "learned that the Clinton White House had requested Mr. Dale's FBI background investigation file — allegedly to determine whether he was `suitable' for access to the White House — some seven (7) months after he had been fired." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. In addition, the plaintiff claims that during the December 14, 1998 deposition of Linda Tripp in Alexander v. Executive Office of the President, Dkt. Nos. 96cv2123 and 97cv1288 (before United States District Judge Royce Lamberth), Ms. Tripp stated that, before Mr. Dale was fired from his job at the Travel Office on May 19, 1993, she saw what she believed was his FBI file on the desk of the then-Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster. See Compl. ¶ 14. Mr. Dale also asserts that Ms. Tripp saw what she believed to be his FBI file in Mr. Foster's safe in then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum's office. See id. ¶ 15.
On July 14, 1999, Mr. Dale submitted a written request, pursuant to the Privacy Act, for "any and all documents, including but not limited to files, that refer or relate in any way to Billy Ray Dale." See id., Ex. 1. The request included a request for access to Mr. Dale's FBI background investigation file. See id. ¶ 19; Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. The EOP denied Mr. Dale's request on August 4, 1999.
In response, Mr. Dale filed this action on September 15, 1999, alleging that the EOP had violated the Privacy Act by not allowing him access to his records. In addition, Mr. Dale filed the case as a related case to Alexander v. Executive Office of the President, Dkt. Nos. 96cv2123 and 97cv1288, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 40.5 of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. On January 24, 2000, Judge Lamberth ruled that the case was not a related case to Alexander under Rule 40.5 and transferred it to the Calendar Committee for random reassignment. Three days later, the plaintiff timely filed his appeal of Judge Lamberth's decision. The following day, the Calendar Committee assigned the case to this member of the court. See Reassignment of Docket No. 99cv2453. After the parties had fully briefed the related-case issue, the court issued a Memorandum Opinion on October 19, 2000. See Dale v. Executive Office of the President, 121 F. Supp.2d 35 (D.D.C. 2000) (Urbina, J.). In sum, the court agreed with Judge Lamberth's analysis and held that the case did not meet the criteria for related-case status under Rule 40.5. See generally id.
In December 2000, the defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The court now turns to the defendant's motion.
III. DISCUSSION
A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) states that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c).*fn1 If a party files a Rule 12(c) motion before the answer, the court may treat it as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Seber v. Unger, 881 F. Supp. 323, 325 n. 2 (N.D.Ill. 1995). "In fact, any distinction between them is merely semantic because the same standard applies to motions made under either subsection." 2 Moore's ...


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