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Ruston v. Bureau of Alcohol

March 1, 2007

LESTER JON RUSTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 26, 31

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 In this Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, action, the plaintiff seeks disclosure of the records pertaining to Joanna Shropshire, an employee at the defendant's Dallas office. Because the defendant's response to the FOIA request was proper, the court grants its motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff submitted a request for information to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives ("BATFE") under FOIA. Compl. ¶ 5. Specifically, he sought:

All official and unofficial records, documents, and/or data contained in the files of your agency with regards to an employee of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives named Joanna Shropshire, who would have been employed at the Dallas Field Office, located at 1100 Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas 75242.

Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Decl. of Averill Graham ("Graham Decl."), Ex. A (July 5, 2005 FOIA Request). Relying on FOIA's Exemption 7(C), BATFE refused to confirm or deny the existence of records pertaining to Shropshire. Id., Ex. C (August 8, 2005 letter from J.M. Price regarding Request No. 05-1379). On administrative appeal, the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP") affirmed the BATFE's initial response to plaintiff's FOIA request. Id., Ex. F (September 26, 2005 letter from R.J. Huff, Co-Director, OIP). The plaintiff now brings suit in this court, seeking full disclosure of all the requested records. Compl. ¶ 9.

II. DISCUSSION

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." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).*fn2 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 Servs., Inc. v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

B. BATFE's Response to the Plaintiff's FOIA Request

Generally, the FOIA requires a federal government agency to make its records available to the public, unless those records or portions of those records are protected from disclosure by a FOIA exemption. 5 U.S.C. ยง552(a). In this case, the defendant claims ...


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