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Leinenbach v. United States Dep't of Justice

June 14, 2006

JAMES LEINENBACH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEP'T OF JUSTICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, James F. Leinenbach, brings this action pro se against the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), the National Personnel Records Center ("NPRC"), a component of the National Archives and Records Administration ("NARA"), and several individual Defendants,*fn1 pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act ("PA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Plaintiff seeks records about himself as well as personnel files relating to the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted a case against him in 1994, Barbara L. Miller. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully withheld Miller's records.

This matter is currently before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 12]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is hereby granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

1. Plaintiff's FOIA/PA Request with DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility

On January 5, 2004, Plaintiff, a prisoner incarcerated at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution, filed a FOIA/PA request with the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR"), seeking "all records wherein [his] name appears" as well as "employment records" relating to "former AUSA Barbara L. Miller, AUSA in [the] Eastern Dist. of PA." See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summ. J. (hereinafter "Defs.' Mot."), Hall Decl., Ex. 6.

On February 3, 2004, Defendant Marlene Wahowiak, OPR's Assistant Counsel for Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, responded. Wahowiak's letter informed Plaintiff that OPR's search located no records relating to him. See id., Ex. 7. It also noted that "after careful consideration," she had "decided to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any records pertaining to former AUSA Barbara L. Miller." Id. Without an individual's consent, the existence of an official investigation, or an "overriding public interest," she explained, FOIA exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7) precluded her from even acknowledging the existence of records responsive to his request. Id. Wahowiak's letter notified Plaintiff that he could appeal OPR's response, within 60 days, and provided explicit instructions on how to file such an appeal. Id. As of June 24, 2005, OPR had no record of Plaintiff filing an appeal of the decision. See Hall Decl., Ex. 8.

2. Plaintiff's FOIA Request with the NPRC

On the same day that he filed his FOIA request with OPR, January 5, 2004, Plaintiff filed a separate but identical request with the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA"), again seeking "all records wherein [his] name appears" a well as "employment records" relating to "former AUSA Barbara L. Miller, AUSA in [the] Eastern Dist. of PA." See Defs.' Mot., Kornmeier Decl., Ex. A. Defendant Marie A. O'Rourke, Assistant Director of the EOUSA, replied to Plaintiff on February 3, 2004, informing him that the agency does not maintain the information he requested and directing him to contact the NPRC, which is the repository for such records. Id., Ex. B.

Later in February 2004,*fn2 Plaintiff sent a FOIA request to NPRC, this time seeking only information about Miller. See id., Bassman Decl. ¶ 6. Because Plaintiff had not provided sufficient identifying information, such as Miller's full legal name, birth date, or social security number, NPRC returned Plaintiff's request to him with a "returned request form" on March 9, 2004. See Compl. at 3. Plaintiff, convinced that he was not "required to provide [NPRC] with information already in their possession and available with the touch of a button," refused to provide any additional information about Miller and again demanded her personnel files in a March 15, 2004 letter.

On April 5, 2004, Defendant William Bassman, Chief of the NPRC's Reference Service Branch informed Plaintiff that the agency held approximately 919 records under the name Barbara Miller and explained that it could not locate a particular individual's folder without "the[ir] complete name, Social Security Number, Date-of-Birth, name of the Federal Agency by whom employed, and the approximate beginning and end dates of employment." See Bassman Decl., Attach. C. The letter also directed Plaintiff to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ("Federal Circuit"), for the "court records" he sought.*fn3 See id.

On September 16, 2004, Plaintiff responded with a "final formal request" in which he again argued that he was "not required to provide" the information requested. See Compl., Appx. 8. In that letter, Plaintiff notes that he has "been sent from pillar to post by the nuemerous [sic] Agencies within the Justice Department, most recently by" the Federal Circuit and claims to have appealed DOJ's denial of his original request. Id. Plaintiff threatened to sue if NPRC did not immediately give him access to Miller's files. See id.

Defendant M.C. Wayman, Chief of NPRC's Personnel Reference Service Section, replied to Plaintiff on October 6, 2004. Referring him to the reasoning outlined in the agency's letter of April 5, 2004, Wayman explained that NPRC would be unable to supply the requested information. See Bassman Decl., Appx. 8. Wayman's letter did not inform Plaintiff of any right he might have to appeal NPRC's decision. See id.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on April 8, 2005. On August 1, 2005, the Government filed the instant Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 12]. Plaintiff opposed that Motion on August 12, ...


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