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Voinche v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

January 26, 2006

WOODY VOINCHE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the defendant's motion [23] for summary judgment and the plaintiff's cross-motion [26] for summary judgment. Also before the Court are the defendant's motions [13, 15, 16, 18, 28] to amend the briefing schedule, the plaintiff's motion [19] for leave to seek discovery, and the plaintiff's motions [14, 22, 24, 25, 30] to compel non-parties to respond to interrogatories. Relying on the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. (2000), and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2000),the plaintiff originally requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") release certain documents containing information about him. Not having received any documents, the plaintiff filed this action claiming that he had exhausted his administrative remedies and that the FBI improperly withheld certain records in violation of FOIA, the Privacy Act, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, and the United States Constitution. In response, the FBI released several pages of documents and maintains that all information it redacted or withheld was protected under various FOIA exemptions and its burden under FOIA was fully satisfied, warranting summary judgment in its favor. The plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment restating his earlier claims.

Upon consideration of the parties' filings, the applicable law and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that the FBI has provided sufficient information for this Court to review some, but not all, of its claimed FOIA exemptions. In accordance with this Memorandum Opinion, this Court shall grant in part and deny in part the FBI's motion [23] for summary judgment without prejudice to its renewal, ordering the FBI to provide additional information to support its assertion of FOIA Exemption 7(E). Further, this Court shall deny Voinche's cross-motion [26] for summary judgment without prejudice to its renewal as to the FBI's claim of Exemption 7(E) and with prejudice in all other respects. In addition, this Court shall grant the FBI's motions [13, 15, 16, 18, 28] to amend the briefing schedule nunc pro tunc; shall deny Voinche's motion [19] for leave to seek discovery; and shall consequently deny as moot Voinche's motions [14, 22, 24, 25, 30] to compel.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 28, 2004, the pro se plaintiff, Woody Voinche, filed a FOIA/Privacy Act request with the FBI for all documents in the FBI's files pertaining to him. In his request, Voinche specifically mentioned several documents: (1) a two-page document concerning Voinche that was addressed by this Court in Voinche v. FBI (Voinche I), 46 F. Supp. 2d 26 (D.D.C. 1999) (Friedman, J.), and was found to be properly withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemption 1, id. at 29; (2) any documents mentioning Voinche's name in FBI file number 194A-NO-58138,*fn1 which related to the FBI's investigation of state and local officials in Louisiana; and (3) all documents the FBI may have relating to an investigation of Voinche in Alexandria, Louisiana*fn2 on a state bank fraud charge. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A.) The FBI responded that file 194A-NO-58138 was exempt pursuant to FOIA exemptions 7(A) and 7(C); the other file it discovered pertaining to Voinche consisted of copies of correspondence Voinche already possessed and the FBI requested that Voinche contact the FBI within sixty days if he still wanted the second file to be processed. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C.) On August 30, 2004, Voinche appealed the FBI's decision by basically restating his original FOIA request; before the FBI was able to process the appeal, Voinche filed the present action with this Court.

Subsequent to the filing of this action, the FBI released several redacted pages of documents concerning Voinche. The FBI then filed a motion for summary judgment, which included a declaration by Nancy L. Steward, the Acting Assistant Section Chief in the Records/Information Dissemination Section, Records Management Division of the FBI, explaining how each FOIA and Privacy Act exemption upon which the FBI relied in redacting the produced documents applied to the redacted or withheld portions. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Declaration of Nancy L. Steward (hereinafter "Steward Decl."). Voinche filed a cross-motion for summary judgment making various allegations of FBI conspiracies against him over the course of the previous 25 years and restating his earlier request for the production of the above-mentioned documents, or alternately a Vaughn index for these documents or their release for an in camera review.

II. DISCUSSION

A. FBI's Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court must grant summary judgment when the evidence in the record demonstrates that there are no disputed issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment on the undisputed facts as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence, when viewed in light most favorable to the non-moving party,"is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, a party must provide more than "a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position; the quantum of evidence must be such that a jury could reasonably find for the moving party. Id. at 252. The burden is on the movant to make the initial showing of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact in dispute. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party is then entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. Additionally, when both parties move for summary judgment, a court must consider each motion separately, independent of the other party's motion. See Nuzzo v. FBI, 1996 WL 741587, *1 (D.D.C. 1996) ("When both parties in a cause of action move for summary judgment, each party must carry its own burden.").

In a FOIA case, an agency is entitled to summary judgment if it demonstrates that each of the withheld or redacted documents falls under one of the FOIA exemptions and is thus not subject to FOIA's disclosure requirements. See Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). A court must conduct a de novo review of the agency's decision to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). The burden is on the agency to produce affidavits or declarations that describe the documents involved and justify the non-disclosure in a clear, specific and reasonably detailed manner, and that "are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record [or] by evidence of agency bad faith." See id., quoted in Voinche I, 46 F. Supp. 2d at 28; see also 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). These 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.'" SafeCard Servs. 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)).

While the fundamental principle of FOIA is to "ensure an informed citizenry" by securing the public's right to access government documents, Congress and the courts have recognized that certain information may legitimately be kept in confidence without jeopardizing FOIA's goals. See John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 152 (1989) (discussing the legislative history and policy objectives of FOIA). To this end, FOIA contains nine exemptions, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1)-(9), which allow agencies to withhold certain types of information in response to FOIA requests. In Vaughn v. Rosen, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that an agency must provide a "relatively detailed analysis" to support its claimed FOIA exemptions. 484 F.2d 820, 826 (D.C. Cir. 1973). A key objective of this analysis, commonly known as a Vaughn index, is to provide a reviewing court with sufficient information to determine, without the disclosure of actual documents, whether information withheld by an agency falls within the claimed FOIA exemption. Cf. Founding Church of Scientology v. Bell, 603 F. 2d 945, 947 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ("Without such an index neither reviewing courts nor individuals seeking agency records can evaluate an agency's response to a request for government records.").

Ideally, a Vaughn index should satisfy the following requirements:

(1) The index should be contained in one document, complete in itself.

(2) The index must adequately describe each withheld document or deletion from ...


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