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Valdez v. United States Dep't of Justice

February 16, 2007

JUAN VALDEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. Having considered the motion, plaintiff's opposition, and the entire record of the case, the Court will grant summary judgment for defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

In January 2004, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, plaintiff submitted a request for information to the United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") for records pertaining to a confidential informant, Carlos Estudillo. Compl. ¶ 7. Mr. Estudillo testified at plaintiff's criminal trial. Id. Specifically, plaintiff sought:

records of arrests, convictions, warrants, or other pending criminal cases, record of all case names, numbers, and judicial districts where he testified under oath, a list of the monies paid to him in his capacity as a DEA informant, all records of instances where DEA interviewed [sic] on his behalf to assist him in avoiding criminal prosecution and all records of administrative sanctions imposed on him for dishonesty, false claims, or other deceit.

Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Decl. of William C. Little ("Little Decl."), Ex. A (January 14, 2004 Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Request). The DEA declined to process plaintiff's request. Id., Ex. B (January 22, 2004 letter from K.L. Myrick, Chief, Operations Unit, FOI/Records Management Section, DEA). Rather, based on Exemptions 6 and 7(C), "without confirming or denying the existence of records relating to Carlos Astudillo, the plaintiff was informed that proof of death or a release authorization was required before any information would be released." Id. ¶ 13. The DEA's response was upheld on administrative appeal. Id. ¶ 16 & Ex. E (March 17, 2004 letter from R.L. Huff, Co-Director, Office of Information and Privacy, U.S. Department of Justice).

DEA filed a motion to dismiss on September 7, 2004 [Dkt. #9], which the Court treated as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In its April 19, 2005 Memorandum Opinion and Order [Dkt. #13], the Court granted summary judgment for DEA, concluding that the agency properly refused to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records. Further, the Court concluded that, if there were responsive records, those records properly could be withheld under Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

Plaintiff appealed, and the matter is again before the Court on remand from the United States Court of Appeals from the District of Columbia Circuit. Valdez v. United States Dep't of Justice, No. 05-5184, slip. op. at 1 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 12, 2006). The District of Columbia Circuit found that DEA neither conducted a search for records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request, nor justified its decision to withhold records on the bases asserted. Id.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The Court grants a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided 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."*fn1 Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). 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.'" SafeCard Serv., Inc. v. Sec. and Exchange Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

B. Plaintiff's FOIA Request

It is clear that the only records plaintiff requests are those pertaining to a third party, Carlos Astudillo. A proper FOIA request for records pertaining to a third party generally requires that the requester submit "either a written authorization signed by that individual permitting disclosure of those records to [the requester] or proof that that individual is deceased (for example, a copy of a death certificate or an obituary)." 28 C.F.R. ยง 16.3(a). The record ...


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