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Sinsheimer v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Security

June 16, 2006

ALLEN H. SINSHEIMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motion [45] for summary judgment. Upon consideration of defendants' motion, the opposition thereto, the reply brief, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that the defendants' motion will be granted. The Court agrees with defendants' contention that the documents in question were properly withheld under Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") Exemptions 2 and 7(C). See 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b).

BACKGROUND

This case arises under the FOIA. It pertains to the processing of plaintiff Allen Sinsheimer's FOIA requests by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), and specifically by the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS"). The documents sought involve two INS Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") reports of investigations of complaints filed respectively by Ms. Georgia Mayers and Ms. Barbara Lockhart, both colleagues of plaintiff at the time he worked at INS, and one report of an investigation by the INS' Office of Internal Audit ("OIA"). (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6.)

Plaintiff is a Certified Public Accountant and current GS-13 employee of the DHS at Customs and Border Protection Division ("CBP"). Plaintiff contends that the allegations underlying the three investigations that are the subject of this suit arose when, in 2000, he brought an EEO action for non-selection for a position in the Office of Financial Management ("OFM") at INS. (Sinsheimer Decl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff had competed for a promotion to the GS-14 slot. Subsequent to the selection of Ms. Georgia Mayers, a fellow employee, plaintiff informed management of several improper accounting related activities engaged in by Ms. Mayers. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Soon thereafter, Ms. Georgia Mayers and Ms. Barbara Lockhart, another employee, filed a sexual harassment complaint against plaintiff. After a complete investigation, plaintiff was permitted to return to work and charges were eventually dismissed. (Pl.'s Ex. 4)

In or about April 2002, plaintiff began requesting in writing that INS/OIA provide him with all materials of both the Legacy INS/OIA Investigatory Unit Reviews and the EEO Office investigations dealing with the allegations brought against him by Ms. Mayers and Ms. Lockhart. On May 16, 2003 plaintiff received documents with unexplained redactions and challenged the response from the Agency in an email to Mr. Yentzer, Director, Office of Administration. (Defs.' Mot. 2.) Since the filing of the Complaint on October 14, 2004, defendants have provided four additional responses to plaintiff's FOIA requests, as well as detailed Vaughn indices identifying the factual and legal basis for either withholding documents in their entirety or redacting documents provided to plaintiff. See Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973). However, plaintiff asserts that the documents withheld have been withheld improperly in violation of the FOIA and that the Vaughn indices are not specific enough to permit the plaintiff, or the Court, to ascertain whether the reasons for withholding the documents are appropriate. (Pl.'s Opp'n 2.) Further, plaintiff argues that defendants have acted in bad faith by falsely stating that the documents are protected.

On January 24, 2006 defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the material not provided to plaintiff has been properly withheld under FOIA's "personal privacy exemptions," 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C), and an exemption for information pertaining solely to an agency's internal personnel rules and practices, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2). (Defs.' Mot. 2.) Defendants also maintain that they have made a good faith effort to ascertain if further non-exempt material may be segregated from the material that is exempt. (Id.)

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions 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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In determining whether the movant has met this burden, a court must consider all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. SeeLiberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. However, a nonmoving party must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. Additionally, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id.

In FOIA cases, a court may grant summary judgment on the basis of government affidavits or declarations that explain how requested information falls within a claimed exemption, as long as the affidavits or declarations are sufficiently detailed, non-conclusory, and submitted in good faith, and as long as the plaintiff has no significant basis for questioning their reliability. Goland v. CIA, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978).

DISCUSSION

For defendants to prevail on their summary judgment motion in a FOIA case, they must demonstrate that no material facts are in dispute and that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, has not been withheld, is unidentifiable, or is exempt from disclosure. Weisberg v. DOJ, 627 F.2d 365, 368 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Plaintiff asserts that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether defendants were utilizing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and OIA investigations to retaliate against the plaintiff for his prior EEOC activity and related disclosures. Plaintiff further contends that, if the investigations were made inappropriately or in bad faith, the agency should not be able to hide behind its claimed FOIA exemptions.In turn, defendants maintain that the information was properly withheld under FOIA Exemptions 2, 6, and ...


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