United States District Court, D. Columbia
September 26, 2005.
CLINTON MATTHEW CORBEIL, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD ROBERTS, District Judge
This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary
judgment.*fn1 Having considered both motions, oppositions
thereto, and the entire record of this case, the Court will grant
summary judgment for defendant.
Plaintiff is a federal prisoner who, at all times relevant to
the complaint, was incarcerated at the Federal Bureau of Prisons
("BOP") correctional institution in Greenville, Illinois ("FCI
Greenville"). See Compl., ¶ 3; Pl.'s Mot. at 1. He alleges
that, upon his arrival in April 2003, staff failed to provide him
with a copy of the institution's rules and procedures.*fn2 Pl.'s Mot. at 1. This failure,
plaintiff alleges, violates BOP Policy Statement 5270.07. Id.
On or about April 29, 2004, plaintiff submitted a request for
information under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"),
5 U.S.C. § 552, to the BOP. Compl., ¶ 5. He sought "all records
concerning his [receipt] of the A&O handbook, and records showing
staff advised him of the rules and regulations of F.C.I.
Greenville," the institution at which he was
incarcerated.*fn3 Id.; Pl.'s Opp., Ex. E (FOIA/PA Request
with Certificate of Identity). BOP's North Central Regional
Office responded to plaintiff's request by letter dated June 28,
2004. Pl.'s Mot., Ex. J. The letter informed plaintiff that
"[i]nstitution staff conducted a thorough search for the records"
requested, and that "no records could be located." Id.
Plaintiff appealed this determination to the Justice Department's
Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP"). Compl., ¶ 6. OIP
notified plaintiff by letter dated September 29, 2004 of its
decision to affirm the initial agency decision. Pl.'s Mot., Ex. M. OIP noted that, "[a]lthough the BOP did possess
responsive records at one time, the BOP cannot presently locate
the responsive records." Id.
In this action, plaintiff challenges the agency's response to
his FOIA request.
The Court grants a motion for summary judgment if the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with affidavits, show that there is
no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of
a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's
affidavits may be accepted as true unless the opposing party
submits his own affidavits or documentary evidence to the
contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on
the information provided in affidavits or declarations when the
affidavits or declarations 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 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).*fn4 Such affidavits or declarations are
accorded "a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by `purely speculative
claims about the existence and discoverability of other
documents.'" Safe Card Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200
(D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA,
692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).
"An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can
demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was `reasonably
calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Valencia-Lucena
v. United States Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999)
(quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir.
1990)); see Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice,
164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (FOIA requires agency to conduct
search using methods reasonably expected to produce requested
information). The agency bears the burden of showing that its
search was calculated to uncover all relevant documents.
Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir.
1994). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or
declarations that explain in reasonable detail the scope and
method of the agency's search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121
(D.C. Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such
affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an
agency's compliance with the FOIA. Id., 684 F.2d at 127. If the
record "leaves substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of the
search, summary judgment for the agency is not proper." Truitt
v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d at 542. When BOP's Headquarters office reviewed plaintiff's FOIA
request, staff forwarded the request to BOP's North Central
Regional Office, which in turn requested that staff at FCI
Greenville conduct a search for responsive records. Kosiak Decl.,
¶¶ 4, 6. FCI Greenville staff determined that responsive records
likely would be found in Section 3 of plaintiff's Central
File.*fn5 Id., ¶ 7. Plaintiff's Unit Manager conducted a
manual search of plaintiff's entire Central File on May 11, 2004,
but found no responsive records. Id., ¶ 10.
Staff at BOP's North Central Regional Office conducted a search
of two other systems of records: the Administrative Remedy System
of Records, and the Federal Tort Claim Act Record System. Kosiak
Decl., ¶ 16. It was thought that plaintiff may have challenged
the disciplinary actions either by filing an inmate grievance, or
by seeking monetary relief by filing an administrative claim
against the United States. Id. If plaintiff had filed claims of
these types, he may have attached exhibits that could be
responsive to the FOIA request. Id. No responsive records were
found. Id., ¶¶ 17-18.
Plaintiff's current case manager conducted a second manual
search of plaintiff's Central File. Kosiak Decl., ¶ 19. This
search yielded a copy of the A&O Program Checklist signed by
plaintiff upon completion of the A&O program when he arrived at
FCI Greenville. Id. BOP released a copy of this document to
plaintiff on April 4, 2005. Id. FCI Greenville's A&O Program Coordinator maintained his own
records for the program. Kosiak Decl., ¶ 20. A search of his
"unofficial" records yielded a sign-in sheet for the A&O program
lecture on April 30, 2003.*fn6 Id. BOP released a copy of
this document to plaintiff on April 4, 2005. Id.
The adequacy of an agency's search is not determined by the
results of the search or by the information ultimately released
by the agency. Rather, "the adequacy of a FOIA search is
generally determined . . . by the appropriateness of the methods
used to carry out the search." Iturralde v. Comptroller of the
Currency, 315 F.3d 311, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2003); see Cleary,
Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton v. Dep't of Health and Human Serv.,
844 F.Supp. 770, 777 n. 4 (D.D.C. 1993) (the search, not the
results of the search, must be reasonable). Mere speculation as
to the existence of records not located in the agency's search
does not undermine the adequacy of the search. See Weisberg v.
United States Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir.
1984) (focus of Court's inquiry is on reasonableness of search,
not whether undisclosed records may exist).
Plaintiff challenges the adequacy of BOP's search for
responsive records. He notes that, although BOP claimed to be
unable to locate responsive records, the agency did maintain such
records. Pl.'s Opp. at 3. "It is plaintiff's belief that the
documents remain in the possession of the BOP," and that these
documents are improperly withheld. Id. Further, plaintiff claims that someone
forged his signature on documents released to him on April 5,
2005. Id. at 4.
Plaintiff offers no support for his assertion; he merely
speculates as to the existence of additional documents. Such
conjecture does not constitute contrary evidence sufficient to
overcome BOP's showing that its search was reasonably calculated
to produce the requested records. BOP submitted a declaration
that was reasonably detailed, and set forth in a nonconclusory
fashion the records searched and the results of the searches. Its
search for records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request was
The fact that BOP's initial search for records in the Inmate
Central File yielded no responsive records, while a second search
located such records, does not undermine BOP's position. Rather,
an agency's prompt report of the discovery of additional
responsive materials may be viewed as evidence of its good faith
efforts to comply with its obligations under FOIA. See Maynard
v. CIA, 986 F.2d 547, 565 (1st Cir. 1993) ("Rather than bad
faith, we think that the forthright disclosure . . . that it had
located the misplaced file suggests good faith on the part of the
The Court concludes that BOP conducted searches were adequate,
and that it released all responsive records in full.*fn7
Defendants demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute, and that defendants
are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly,
defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted. A
separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
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