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TRUESDALE v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

December 5, 2005.

ALVIN B. TRUESDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. In a previous Order, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant on Plaintiff's challenges to the disposition of his FOIA requests by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ("ATF") and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA"), and the disposition of document referrals by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), and ATF.*fn1 The remaining FOIA claim involves Plaintiff's 1996 request to the FBI. Defendant has moved for summary judgment and Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment or partial summary judgment. Background

On August 15, 1996, pursuant to the FOIA, Plaintiff sent a letter to the FBI

 
All files concerning my case or cases, including any and all records pertaining to the requestor, kept, stored, or filed in any of the agency's record-keeping systems, whether they be manually filed, electronically-filed, or computerized retrieval systems. Records sought include, but are not limited to, all Confidential Informant(s) Statements made during debriefing sessions with government and local agents, FBI investigative reports, Property Sheets, Lab Reports, Files Documents, Agents (sic) Notes, Dossier, Tapes and other recordings, Transcripts, Reports Statements, Notes Memos and any other Informative Materials or Data that may be [available] including all Investigative Records compiled for Law Enforcement Purposes not exempt as per Amendments in force at the time; relative to State and Federal investigations that led to the Federal Case # Misc 2450-P and Federal Indictment # 3:92CR34-1-P, Letters written and received with the requestor as the subject, All correspondence from all law enforcement agencies is incorporated by reference.
Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Counter Motion for Summary Judgment or Partial Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Resp."), Exhibit ("Ex.") 1.

  On October 30, 1996, the FBI's Charlotte Field Office ("CFO") advised Plaintiff that it had located records responsive to his request in main file 245-CE-61794, and that the CFO had concluded that the records were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. Defendant's Motion for Further Enlargement of Time to Complete Record and Briefing on Summary Judgment ("Deft.'s Extension Mot."), Second Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy Second Decl."), ¶ 6 & Ex. B. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP") at DOJ. Id., Ex. C.

  In its disposition of Plaintiff's appeal, OIP advised Plaintiff that the FBI would make a supplemental release of documents, but that OIP otherwise upheld the FBI's decision on his FOIA request. Id., Ex. D. As a result of OIP's decision, the CFO released to plaintiff 41 pages of public source materials and a witness statement. Hardy Second Decl., ¶ 9. The CFO withheld certain information from these records pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C). Id.

  In addition to this direct request to the FBI, the EOUSA referred 434 pages of materials responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request to that office to the FBI on May 24, 2002. Deft.'s Part. Mot., Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy Decl."), Ex. B. After processing the request, the FBI released to Plaintiff 2 pages in full, 25 pages in part, and withheld 63 pages in full. Id., Ex. C. The FBI withheld certain records pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 2, 7 (C), (D), and (F). Id. The agency determined that 337 pages of the materials were duplicates. Id., Ex. F. Plaintiff appealed the FBI's decision on September 4, 2002 to the OIP. Id., Ex. D. The FBI's action was affirmed by OIP on May 20, 2003. Id., Ex. F.*fn2

  The CFO forwarded main file 245F-CE-61794 to FBI Headquarters ("FBIHQ") for a determination of whether the file contained responsive documents in addition to those referred to the FBI by the EOUSA. Defendant's Reply in Support of Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Deft.'s Reply"), Declaration of Nancy L. Steward ("Steward Decl."), ¶ 4. The file is the result of an investigation involving a number of individuals and contains approximately 5300 pages of documents. Id. The FBIHQ conducted a search on March 31, 2005, and determined that 511 pages of the materials specifically pertained to Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 8. The FBIHQ concluded that 351 pages with redactions were releasable to Plaintiff, 11 pages were to be withheld in full, and 149 pages were duplicative to records previously released to Plaintiff. Id. Standard of Review

  Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c). Material facts are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

  In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Washington Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 865 F.2d 320, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1989). The party opposing a motion for summary judgment, however, "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non-moving party must do more than simply "show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Moreover, "any factual assertions in the movant's affidavits will be accepted as being true unless [the opposing party] submits his own affidavits or other documentary evidence contradicting the assertion." Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (quoting Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982)).

  The mere existence of a factual dispute by itself, however, is not enough to bar summary judgment. The party opposing the motion must show that there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. To be material, the fact must be capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation; to be genuine, the issue must be supported by admissible evidence sufficient for a reasonable trier of fact to find in favor of the nonmoving party. See id.; Laningham v. United States Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1242-43 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

  FOIA cases are typically and appropriately decided on motions for summary judgment. Miscavige v. IRS, 2 F.3d 366, 368 (11th Cir. 1993); Rushford v. Civiletti, 485 F.Supp. 477, 481 n. 13 (D.D.C. 1980). In a FOIA case, the Court may award summary judgment solely on the basis of information provided by the department or agency 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); see also Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826-28 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974). Agency affidavits or declarations must be "relatively detailed and non-conclusory . . ." SafeCard Services v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991). 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." Id. (internal citation and quotation omitted). An agency must demonstrate that "each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is wholly [or partially] exempt from the Act's inspection requirements." Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978) (internal citation and quotation omitted). Discussion

  Adequacy of the Search

  To obtain summary judgment on the issue of the adequacy of the search for records under FOIA, an agency must show "viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the requester, that . . . [it] `has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Steinberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 552 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (quoting Weisberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail and in a non-conclusory fashion the scope and method of the agency's search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance with FOIA. Id. at 127. The agency must show that it made a "good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested." Oglesby ...


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