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Singleton v. Executive Office For United States Attorneys

November 2, 2006

CORNELIUS SINGLETON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, DEFENDANT.



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. Plaintiff challenges the disposition of his FOIA requests by the the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA"). Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to defendant's motion. Because the Court concludes that EOUSA has complied with FOIA, defendant's motion will be granted.

Background

On October 26, 2005, plaintiff sent a FOIA request to EOUSA for "letters of appointment and oath[s] of office" of 13 individually named current and former Assistant United StatesAttorneys ("AUSAs"). Compl. ¶ 5 & Exh. A; Decl. of Anthony J. Ciccone ¶ 6. The AUSAs were employed in four different United States Attorney's Offices: the Southern District of Florida ("USAO-FLS"), the Western District of North Carolina ("USAO-NCW"), the District of Columbia ("USAO-DC), and the Middle District of Tennessee ("USAO-TNM"). Id. ¶ 8. On November 29, 2005, before EOUSA responded to his request, plaintiff filed this action. Compl.; Decl. of Anthony J. Ciccone ¶ 13.

In response to plaintiff's complaint, on February 7, 2006, the EOUSA sent a memorandum to the four USAOs requesting that they expedite the processing of plaintiff'a request. Id. Exhs. 2, 10, 17, 24. On March 15, 2006, after records searches by the four USAOS named in plaintiff's request -- USAO-FLS, USAO-NCW, USAO-DC, and USAO-TNM -- EOUSA released to plaintiff without redaction appointment affidavits -- which includes the oath of office -- for the currently employed prosecutors listed by plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 7 n. 1, 17 & Exh. 4, 33 & Exh. 12, 47, 48 & Exh. 19, 62 & Exh. 26. The records on the remaining prosecutors named in plaintiff's request could not be located because they were no longer employed by the USAOS. Id. ¶ 19 & Exh. 4, 23, 24 & Ex. 12, 35, 36 & Exh. 19, 46, 47 & Exh. 26. Plaintiff was advised that he could receive this information from the Federal Records Center. Id.

On March 22, 2006, plaintiff responded to EOUSA's dispositions of his FOIA requests. Id.

¶ 20 & Exh. 5. Plaintiff informed defendant that he did not receive "letters of appointment detailing the tenure of the position or any extension that may have been granted over the tenure period." Id. On April 26, 2006, EOUSA issued a supplemental release of these documents in part, redacting the home addresses of the AUSAS under FOIA Exemption 6. Id. ¶¶ 25, 40, 55, 68, 69.

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, demonstratethat 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 v. ...


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