The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on defendant Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms' ("BATF") motion for summary judgment, pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), plaintiff Jack Ferranti's opposition thereto and
motion to require detailed indexing, justification and itemization. Based
upon the memoranda in support of and in opposition to the motions, the
entire record herein and the applicable law, the plaintiffs motion to
require detailed indexing will be denied and defendant's motion for
summary judgment will be granted.
I. Factual and Procedural History
Plaintiff Jack Ferranti, currently incarcerated in a federal prison
after having been convicted of a federal firearms violation, initiated
this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), in March
2001. Plaintiff challenges BATF's response to his FOIA request for
documents in its possession relating to several criminal investigations
of plaintiff, in 1989, 1994 and 1995.
Plaintiff made his initial FOIA request to BATF by letter in August of
1999. In November of 1999 BATF released 41 pages of documents to
plaintiff, with certain information redacted. In December 1999 plaintiff
appealed the BATF's disclosure by letter, asserting that not all
responsive documents had been released and challenging the redacted
information. This administrative appeal was denied by BATF on the grounds
that an adequate search had been conducted for any responsive documents
and that all redacted information had been properly withheld pursuant to
Exemptions (b)(2) and (b)(7)(C) of the FOIA. In response to that denial
plaintiff initiated this action arguing again that defendant had not
released all responsive documents and that some of the redacted
information had been improperly withheld. Defendant has moved for summary
judgment on the grounds that it has conducted an adequate search and has
released all responsive documents (the 41 pages) including all reasonably
segregable non-exempt information contained therein. Plaintiff has
opposed the motion for summary judgment and has moved the Court to require
the defendant to submit a detailed Vaughn Index to further justify its
claimed FOIA exemptions.
II. The Freedom of Information Act and the Standard of Review
The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, as amended by the
Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986, §§ 1801-04 of Pub.L. No.
99-570, 100 Stat. 3207, 3207-48 (1986), provides citizens a statutory
right of access to government information. Underlying this right to
access is the principle that "the public is entitled to know what its
government is doing and why." See Coastal States Gas Corp. v. Department
of Energy, 617 F.2d 854, 868 (D.C.Cir. 1980). Consequently, FOIA
instructs government agencies to disclose agency records, unless the
requested records fall within one of the Act's nine enumerated
exemptions. See 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(1)-(9). Accordingly, a FOIA
requester usually challenges agency non-disclosure of documentation by
demonstrating either, that the search conducted was inadequate, or that
the claimed exemption has been improperly asserted. Summary judgment in a
FOIA action is appropriate when the pleadings together with the
declarations 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.
56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202; Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. EPA, 856 F.2d 309, 313
(D.C.Cir. 1988) (mere conflict in affidavits not sufficient to preclude
an award of summary judgment); Weisberg v. Department of Justice,
627 F.2d 365, 368 (D.C.Cir. 1980). Courts review FOIA suits de novo.
However, the agency carries the burden of justifying nondisclosure, See
5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(4)(B); U.S. Department of Justice v. Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 755, 109 S.Ct. 1468,
103 L.Ed.2d 774 (1989).
Agencies may rely on the declarations of its officials in order to
sustain their burden of proof in a FOIA case. See Oglesby v. U.S.
Department of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C.Cir. 1990); Goland v. CIA,
607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C.Cir. 1978). The agency's declarations are accorded
a presumption of expertise. Pharmaceutical Manufacturer, Ass'n v.
Weinberger, 411 F. Supp. 576, 578 (D.D.C. 1976.). However, the
declarations must be clear, specific and adequately detailed; they must
describe the withheld information and the reason for nondisclosure in a
factual and non-conclusory manner; and they must be submitted in good
faith. See Hayden v. NSA, 608 F.2d 1381, 1387 (D.C.Cir. 1979). Unless the
affidavits are deficient, the court need not conduct further inquiry into
their veracity. Id. at 1387. A plaintiff must show that the claimed
exemption is improperly asserted in order to have a triable issue of
material fact that will preclude awarding summary judgment to the
A. Information Redacted in the 41 Pages
Defendant released 41 pages of material to the plaintiff with certain
information redacted. Defendant claims that all redacted information has
been properly withheld pursuant to Exemptions 2 and 7(C) to the FOIA, as
explained in the declaration of Dorothy Chambers, a BATF official
responsible for processing all FOIA requests ("Chambers Decl.").
The declaration describes the information withheld under Exemption 2 to
as internal BATF computer codes. (Chambers Decl. at ¶¶ 3, 6). Such
codes clearly fall within Exemption 2, and as such have been properly
redacted from the released documents. The declaration also specifies that
the information that has been withheld pursuant to Exemption 7(C) is
comprised of the names of various law enforcement officials and third
party individuals. (Chambers Decl. at ¶¶ 3, 7-9). The names of all
such individuals are plainly covered by the privacy exemption that 7(C)
affords. Accordingly, a categorical redaction of this information, as
described in the declaration, is also valid.
Plaintiff argues that even though such withholdings might generally be
justified, the defendant is required to specifically correlate every
piece of redacted information in the 41 pages with one of the two claimed
exemptions, and that BATF's failure to do so precludes summary judgment.
(See Plaintiff's Motion Under Vaughn; Plaintiff's Opposition at p. 6).
The Court disagrees.
Courts have reasoned that in assessing the adequacy of a Vaughn Index,
it is the function served, rather than form, that is crucial. See Jones
v. FBI, 41 F.3d 238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994) ("[I]t is the function, not the
form, which is important."); Coleman v. FBI, 13 F. Supp.2d 75, 78
(D.D.C. 1998) (requiring "substance over form" in preparation of Vaughn
Index to facilitate de novo review). The degree of specificity is
therefore dependent upon the nature of the case, the document at issue,
and the exemption claimed. See Information Acquisition Corp. v. Dep't of
Justice, 444 F. Supp. 458, 462 (D.D.C. 1978).
Therefore, there is no requirement that the BATF label each redaction
with the asserted exemption, in contradiction to Ferranti's argument. See
Davis v. United States Dep't of Justice, 968 F.2d 1276, 1282 n. 4
(D.C.Cir. 1992) (concluding that the precise matching of exemptions with
particular withheld items was not necessary for the trial court's
disposition as all the government's claims were meritorious). Such
correlation may indeed be required in many cases where the information
being withheld is extensive enough, i.e. more than just names and codes,
such that the applicable exemption would not be clear from the face of
the redacted document, and is obviously required when a document has been
withheld in its entirety. However, in this case the defendant's affidavit
specifically declares that only two narrowly limited categories of
information, individual's names and internal codes, have been redacted.
As discussed above, both claimed exemptions are clearly valid as a matter
of law. Plaintiff concedes as much by acknowledging that some of the
redactions "rather obviously" fall within one exemption or another, and
does not argue that individual names are outside the scope of Exemption
7(C) nor that internal computer codes are outside the scope of Exemption
2. (See Plaintiff's Opposition at p. 8). It is also clear to ...