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Thomas v. United States Dep't of Justice

January 24, 2008

MELVIN E. THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ET AL., 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 United States Department of Justice's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. # 13]. Having considered the Complaint, Plaintiff's Opposition, and the entire record of this case, the Court will grant the Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this civil action against the United States Department of Justice ("Justice Department") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, for the alleged failure of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA") to respond to his request for information. See Compl. at 1-2.

In March 2004, Plaintiff submitted several letters to the EOUSA requesting records pertaining to his criminal case before the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Decl. of John F. Boseker ("Boseker Decl.") ¶ 6; see Compl. at 1-2. Plaintiff's initial request in relevant part stated:

Request information in the case of United States v[.] Melvin Thomas #F14491-89. Arrested 12-27-89. Statements made to investigating officers or Detectives at 2nd District MPD 3320 Idaho Ave NW by witnesses: Terry Viands/Craige Field/Mrs. Field [and] any other statement made. Officers or Detectives reports on the condition of the coat worn by Melvin Thomas.

Boseker Decl., Ex. A (FOIA Request). The EOUSA acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's request, assigned FOIA No. 04-823, by letter. Boseker Decl. ¶ 7 & Ex. B (April 1, 2004 Letter from M.A. O'Rourke, Assistant Director, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Unit, EOUSA). More than two years passed without a substantive response from the EOUSA. See Compl. at 1; Boseker Decl. ¶¶ 7-12. Only after the filing of the instant civil action did the EOUSA appear to act on Plaintiff's FOIA request, and the EOUSA's response is based on the request set forth in the Complaint. Boseker Decl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff described his request as follows:

Plaintiff's request was for the prosecution file witness' statements of Terry Viands; Craige Field, Mrs. Field, any other statements made on the 27th of Dec[ember 1989] or shortly after, and in particular any reports done on a green overcoat containing a bullet hole -- Case No. F14491-89.

Compl. at 1. The EOUSA's search for and review of records "in connection with this request adhere to the scope of the complaint, which is specific and does not seek all records" in the prosecution file for Criminal Case No. F-14491-89. Boseker Decl. ¶ 13.

The EOUSA released 9 pages of records in part and withheld 44 pages of records in full pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 6, 7(C), 7(D), and 7(F). Boseker Decl. ¶¶ 14-15 & Ex. I (March 16, 2007 letter from W.G. Stewart, Assistant Director, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Staff, EOUSA).

In this action, Plaintiff demands "release [of] the prosecution file in criminal case F13391-89, in its entirity [sic]." Compl. at 2 (Relief Requested).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issues 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 that contradict the movant's assertions. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982)).

To obtain summary judgment in a FOIA action, an agency must show, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the requester, that there is no genuine issue of material fact with regard to the agency's compliance with FOIA. Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). The Court may award summary judgment based solely upon the information provided in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "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 Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

B. The EOUSA's Search for Responsive Records

In determining the adequacy of a FOIA search, a court is guided by principles of reasonableness. Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990). "An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990)); see Campbell v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (FOIA requires agency to conduct search using methods reasonably expected to produce requested information). The agency bears the burden of showing that its search was calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Steinberg, 23 F.3d at 551. To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail 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, ...


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