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Loving v. United States Dep't of Defense

July 26, 2007

DWIGHT J. LOVING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Dwight Loving seeks records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, from the Department of Defense ("DoD") and the Army concerning the President's pending review of plaintiff's military death sentence. This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The issue is whether the defendants have properly invoked FOIA Exemption 5 to withhold four documents. As explained herein, the Court finds that the documents at issue were properly withheld. Accordingly, the Court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

In 1989 plaintiff, an Army private stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was convicted of felony murder, premeditated murder, attempted murder and robbery under Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice ("UCMJ"). (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ["Defs.' Statement"] ¶ 1). A general court-martial sentenced plaintiff to death. United States v. Loving, 517 U.S. 748, 751 (1996). A series of unsuccessful appeals and reviews followed. See United States v. Loving, 41 M.J. 213 (1994), Loving, 517 U.S. 748. However, the review of plaintiff's death sentence is not yet final, because it has not been approved by the President of the United States. 10 U.S.C. § 871(a) ("If the sentence of the court-martial extends to death, that part of the sentence providing for death may not be executed until approved by the President"); see also Manual for Courts-Martial, Rule for Courts-Martial ("R.C.M.") 1207 ("No part of a court-martial sentence extending to death may be executed until approved by the President."). The procedure for transmitting a military capital case to the President is set forth in R.C.M. 1204(c)(2) and Army Regulation 190-55, which require the Judge Advocate General to transmit his or her recommendation along with court records and any clemency petition by the prisoner to the Secretary of the Army for action by the President. R.C.M. 1204(c)(2); Army Regulation 190-55.

The Acting Secretary of the Army prepared a memorandum for transmittal of plaintiff's case to the President in November 2004, but the case was then put on hold pending the outcome of plaintiff's appeals. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 9.) In August 2005, plaintiff submitted FOIA requests to the DoD and the Army seeking any documents regarding procedures for the forwarding of military death penalty cases to the President during the relevant times. (See id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff also submitted Privacy Act requests for any documents containing opinions or recommendations regarding the approval or commutation of his death sentence and any other Army or DoD documents pertaining to his death sentence. (See id.)

In December 2005, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denied plaintiff's two remaining petitions for extraordinary relief, but permitted him to file a habeas petition, which plaintiff did the following month. Loving v. United States, 62 M.J. 235 (2005). In January 2006, the Secretary of the Army delivered plaintiff's case to the White House for presidential action. (Defs.' Statement¶ 12.) That same month, Loving filed administrative appeals with both the DoD and the Army complaining of the lack of response to his FOIA and Privacy Act requests. (Id. ¶ 13.) In early February 2006, the DoD provided 133 pages of responsive documents and informed plaintiff that 104 further pages were being withheld under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 6. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 21.) Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal in April 2006. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ["Pl.'s Statement"] ¶ 2.) On September 26, 2006, plaintiff filed this action against the Army and DoD, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for the release of responsive agency records. (Defs.' Statement¶ 26.) Days after he filed this action, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in plaintiff's habeas case that his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at trial was potentially meritorious and ordered an evidentiary hearing to establish the factual predicate for this claim. (Pl.'s Statement ¶ 1.)

After this case was filed, defendants released nearly 700 pages of responsive documents and withheld a similar number of documents under exemptions to FOIA and the Privacy Act. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 27, 30, 31, 35.) Defendants then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the documents not produced had been properly withheld. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion seeking release of ten of the withheld documents.

Ultimately, plaintiff narrowed his summary judgment motion to the following four documents which are identified by Vaughn Index number:

#408 A 31-page memorandum from the Judge Advocate General of the Army to the Secretary of the Army (forwarded to the President pursuant to R.C.M. 1204(c)(2)) reflecting the Judge Advocate General's analysis of plaintiff's case and recommendation as to whether the Secretary should recommend that the President approve plaintiff's death sentence, dated January 13, 2004;

#499 A one-page memorandum addressed from the Secretary of the Army to the President "containing the [Secretary's] recommendation regarding whether or not PVT Loving's death sentence should be approved," dated November 8, 2004;

#86 A one-page memorandum from the Secretary of Defense to the President forwarding plaintiff's military court-martial capital case to the President for action, dated January 8, 2006;

#87 An undated one-page memorandum from the DoD Office of the General Counsel to the Counsel to the President concerning "The President's Action in Two Military Capital Cases."

(Pl.'s Reply at 3.) Defendants contend these documents are exempt under FOIA Exemption 5 because they are subject to the deliberative process privilege, the presidential communications privilege, the attorney-client privilege and/or the attorney work product doctrine. (Defs.' Reply at 8-11.) Plaintiff disputes defendants' privilege claims and argues that the documents are akin to ...


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