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SCIBA v. BOARD OF GOVERNOR OF FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM

April 1, 2005.

JEFFREY-GENE SCIBA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF GOVERNOR OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Mot.") [D.E. #3], and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem."), [D.E. # 9]. The plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, as amended, the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1), and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., to require public disclosure of all records and other documents contained in the defendant's files involving the plaintiff and another individual over whom the plaintiff allegedly had power of attorney. Complaint ("Compl".) at 1. Based upon the submissions presented to the Court, the plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Court will defer ruling on the defendant's motion for the reasons set forth below.

I. Background

  On or about April 13, 2004, the plaintiff sent the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the "Board") a request pursuant to the FOIA and the Privacy Act, seeking access to a system of records known as "BGFRS-21" or the FRB-Supervisory Tracking and Reference System.*fn1 Compl. ¶ 6 & Exhibit ("Ex.") M1 (Letter to the Secretary of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System dated April 13, 2004, requesting access to BGFRS-21). On or about April 14, 2004, the plaintiff sent the Board another nearly identical letter requesting documents relating to the Fedwire Funds Service ("Fedwire").*fn2 Compl. ¶ 11 & Ex. M2 (Letter to the Secretary of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System dated April 14, 2004, requesting access to the Fedwire). Both letters sought information contained under the plaintiff's social security number and the social security number of Max-K. Akamai ("Akamai"), over whom the plaintiff had power of attorney. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 11 & Exs. M1 & M2. The plaintiff also requested trace of funds information regarding the Phoenix Private Free Market Association, the plaintiff, Akamai, and certain other entities. Id.

  With respect to the April 13, 2004 letter, the defendant exercised its statutory right to extend the time in which it had to respond to the letter until May 27, 2004, in order to "consult with another agency or with two or more components of the Board having a substantial interest in the determination of the request." Id. ¶ 8 & Exhibit M3 (Letter dated May 13, 2004, from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to Mr. Jeffrey-Gene Sciba). With respect to the April 14, 2004 letter, the defendant likewise extended the time it had to respond to the letter until June 2, 2004. Id. ¶ 14 & Exhibit M4 (Letter dated May 13, 2004 from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to Mr. Jeffrey-Gene Sciba). Ultimately on June 22, 2004, the Board sent the plaintiff two additional letters. The first letter informed the plaintiff that the Board had no information responsive to his request for Fedwire records. Def.'s Mem. at 4. The second letter informed the plaintiff that the Board located six documents, totaling 10 pages, responsive to his request for information from BGFRS-21. Id. However, the Board informed the plaintiff that those documents contained records compiled for law enforcement purposes and were being withheld pursuant to Exemption 7(A) of the FOIA.*fn3 Id. Additionally, the letter informed the plaintiff that the documents were exempt from the access provisions of the Privacy Act pursuant to subsection (k)(2) of the Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(k)(2). Id. (citing Plaintiff's Affidavit of Self-Authenticating Records and Ex. M30 (Letters dated June 22, 2004 from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board to Mr. Jeffrey-Gene Sciba)). However, prior to receiving the two letters from the Board responsive to his requests, the plaintiff filed his complaint seeking injunctive relief from this Court. Def.'s Mem. at 5. Thus, the underlying basis for the relief requested in the plaintiff's complaint was that the defendant was in default by not responding to his requests. See Compl. ¶ 16. However, after receiving the letters from the Board, the plaintiff filed his Motion for Partial Summary Judgment requesting that this Court "command" the Board to "release documents improperly held [and] search its records for further documents. . . ." Pl.'s Mot. at 1. The defendant has filed its opposition to the motion claiming that the six documents, totaling 10 pages, are the only documents in its possession that are responsive to the plaintiff's request and that they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Exemption 3(A) of the FOIA and 31 U.S.C. § 5319, as well as other FOIA exemptions and the access provisions of the Privacy Act. Def.'s Mem. at 5.

  II. Standard of Review

  The Court may grant summary judgment when there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321-23 (1986). In resolving a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences that may be gleaned from the facts before the Court must be construed in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In a FOIA case, to satisfy this standard, the "defending agency must prove that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is wholly exempt from the (FOIA's) inspection requirements." Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). When reviewing an agency's denial of a plaintiff's FOIA request, "the court shall determine the matter de novo, and . . . the burden is on the agency to sustain its action." 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B) (2000); see also Founding Church of Scientology of Wash., D.C., Inc. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 610 F.2d 824, 830 (D.C. Cir. 1979). In carrying its burden, reliance on "agency affidavits is warranted if the affidavits describe the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by [n]either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981); Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981); Hayden v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 608 F.2d 1381, 1387 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (summary judgment is appropriate in FOIA cases on the basis of affidavits.) Once the Court determines that the declarations are sufficient, it need not inquire further. Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

  III. Analysis

  A. The Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

  The plaintiff moves the Court for entry of partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(d).*fn4 Aside from the blanket request for an order commanding the defendant to release all responsive documents, the plaintiff's motion has several other requests. Specifically, the plaintiff requests that this Court require the defendant to submit a Vaughn Index.*fn5 Pl.'s Mot. at 11. The plaintiff also seeks a determination by this Court that the defendant's search for the BGFRS-21 documents was inadequate, and therefore order the agency to search the BGFRS-21 system of records for further documents. Id. Additionally, the plaintiff requests that this Court order the agency to submit affidavits that address how many documents, if any, were found and if any of the information was exempt from disclosure. Id.

  However, the defendant's motion for summary judgment and its opposition to the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment satisfy these additional requests. Specifically, the defendant has submitted a Vaughn Index which provides a detailed description of the withheld documents and the corresponding exemptions that purportedly apply to any withheld information. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. C (Index of Withheld Material). With respect to the adequacy of the Board's search and the plaintiff's request for supporting affidavits, the defendant has provided three declarations supporting its claimed exemptions.*fn6 See Def.'s Mem., Exs. 3, 4 & 5. However, the plaintiff has since withdrawn his request "for a second search of the records and for additional affidavits" pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a). Plaintiff's Response and Reply Opposing: Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 6. Moreover, with respect to the Fedwire documents, the plaintiff makes nearly identical requests as he did with the BGFRS-21 documents. However, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a), the plaintiff "with[drew] his entire second cause of action, regarding the plaintiff's access to the Fedwire Service." Id. Therefore, the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment must be denied. This result is called for because the plaintiff's requests for a Vaughn Index is now moot by virtue of the defendant's filing of its motion for summary judgment and accompanying Vaughn Index. The plaintiff's motion must also be denied because the other issues raised by the plaintiff concerning the adequacy of the defendant's search efforts and the Fedwire documents were withdrawn. Id. Thus, the only issues remaining are whether the BGFRS-21 documents were properly withheld pursuant to the FOIA exemptions claimed by the Board and whether the plaintiff is entitled to those same documents under the Privacy Act.*fn7 These issues were addressed in the defendant's motion for summary judgment and will be resolved by the Court in the following discussion.

  B. The Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

  1. FOIA Exemption 3(A)

  The Board asserts, inter alia, Exemption 3(A) of the FOIA and 31 U.S.C. § 5319 as one of its basis for withholding the 6 documents, totaling ten pages, in their entirety from the plaintiff.*fn8 Def.'s Mem. at 16. Exemption 3(A) permits the withholding of information prohibited from disclosure by another statute if that statute "requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue." See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3); Smith v. United States Dep't of Justice, 251 F.3d 1047, 1048-49 (D.C. Cir. 2001). In such situations "the sole issue for decision is the existence of a relevant statute and the inclusion of withheld material within that statute's ...


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