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Canning v. U.S. Dep't of Justice

July 21, 2008

GEORGE CANNING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, George Canning, brings this action pro se against the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, et seq.. Canning is seeking disclosure of (1) all records relating to the Armored Response Group of the United States ("ARGUS") and (2) FBI file 194-WF-178121. DOJ claims that any documents responsive to Canning's FOIA request that were redacted or not released were properly withheld from disclosure pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 3, 7(C), and 7(D). This matter is now before the Court on DOJ's Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and supplemental briefing, and for the reasons stated below, DOJ's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

On November 30, 1995, Canning submitted a FOIA request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's ("FBI") Washington Metropolitan Field Office ("WMFO"), requesting (1) all FBI records relating to the Armored Response Group of the United States ("ARGUS") and (2) FBI file 194-WF-178121, which related to the FBI's investigation into possible government corruption in the Loudoun County, Virginia Sheriff's Department ("LCSD").

On June 27, 1996, the WMFO notified Canning that file 194-WF-178121 and information about ARGUS had been found via a search of the Central Records System. The letter also informed him that the responsive information had been referred to FBI headquarters for processing. On January 31, 1997, FBI headquarters notified Canning that approximately 5,000 pages of documents were responsive to his request.

On December 14, 2001, Canning filed the instant lawsuit. Between May 28, 2002, and December 12, 2002, the FBI released 5,253 documents to Canning in four separate installments. Of those pages, 1,932 were released with information withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 2, 3, 6, 7(C), 7(D), and 7(E). In conjunction with the releases, the FBI notified Canning that certain unreleased documents had been referred to the United States Army and the United States Marshals Service for review.

On June 11, 2002, the Court ordered Canning to select a sample of five percent of the redacted documents for DOJ to review. Subsequently, DOJ submitted a "Vaughn Index" and the Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy Decl.") based on the 263 selected pages, justifying its withholding of information in that sample under FOIA exemptions 3, 7(C), and 7(D). On February 6, 2004, DOJ filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn2

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment will be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions 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). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the action 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 an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In a FOIA case, the district court conducts a de novo review of the government's decision to withhold requested documents under any of FOIA's specific statutory exemptions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). Thus, the burden is on the agency to show that nondisclosed, requested material falls within a stated exemption. Petroleum Info. Corp. v. United States Dep't of the Interior, 976 F.2d 1429, 1433 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 254. In this Circuit, the agency is obligated to submit an index of all responsive material it has withheld, either in whole or in part, under a FOIA exemption. Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826-28 (D.C. Cir. 1973).

The court may award summary judgment in a FOIA case solely on the basis of information provided in agency affidavits or declarations that 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). Thus, for summary judgment to be appropriate, the agency's Vaughn Index must set forth with particularity the justification for any specific exclusions, relating the justification to the particular part of the document to which it applies. Mead Data Cent., Inc. v. United States Dep't of the Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 251 (D.C. Cir. 1977). The agency's affidavits supporting its Vaughn Index must not be conclusory or too broadly sweeping. King v. United States Dep't of Justice, 830 F.2d 210, 219 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

III. ANALYSIS

DOJ argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because it has released all non-exempt information after a thorough search and because it has properly justified all withholdings in its Vaughn Index. Canning argues, in opposition, that some of DOJ's withholdings under Exemption 7(C), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C), included information in the public interest and were impermissibly broad. Second, he contends that segregable information was withheld under Exemption 7(C). Third, he maintains that Defendant improperly withheld information under Exemption 7(D), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(D). Fourth, he argues that Defendant has improperly withheld information officially acknowledged ...


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