Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Schoenman v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

September 15, 2008

RALPH SCHOENMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This Memorandum Opinion addresses the discrete issue held in abeyance by the Court's September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion: the Department of State's ("State Department") withholding of information from two documents in response to Plaintiff's request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act of 1974, ("Privacy Act" or "PA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Plaintiff, Ralph Schoenman, a political activist and author, filed FOIA/PA requests seeking access to an array of records pertaining to himself, Lord Bertrand Russell, and six organizations, with a total of ten different named agencies and a number of unnamed agencies to which the named agencies might refer documents for a determination as to releasability (identified as "John Doe Agencies 1-10" in Plaintiff's Complaint).

In its September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court granted-in-part the State Department's Motion for Summary Judgment, and denied-in-part Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, insofar as each related to the adequacy of the State Department's search, the State Department's segregation of non-exempt information, and the State Department's withholding of information from Documents P323 and P334. The Court found, however, that it could not resolve the parties' cross-motions as to Documents P143 and P319 because the State Department had withheld the names of an FBI legal attaché and two FBI agents from those documents pursuant to FOIA Exemption 6 and 7(C) but did not indicate whether it had made any efforts to determine those individuals' life status before purporting to balance their privacy interests against any public interest in disclosure. The Court therefore held in abeyance the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment with respect to Documents P143 and P319 and required the State Department to indicate to the Court whether the FBI legal attaché and agents are alive or dead, so that the Court could consider the State Department's balancing under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

The State Department has since provided that information via an additional declaration by Margaret P. Grafeld, Information and Privacy Coordinator of the Office of Information Programs and Services ("IPS"), State Department (hereinafter "Add'l Grafeld Decl."). Based upon Ms. Grafeld's Additional Declaration, and in particularly light of the fact that Plaintiff has not identified a public interest in the disclosure of the names at issue that outweighs the privacy interests of the individuals involved, the Court concludes that the State Department has properly withheld the names from Documents P143 and P319. The Court shall therefore GRANT the State Department's [52] Motion for Summary Judgment and DENY Plaintiff's [56] Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to those documents.

DISCUSSION

The factual background of this case is extensively discussed in this Court's September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion regarding the State Department's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. See Schoenman v. DOJ, Civ. A. No. 04-2202, slip op. (D.D.C. Sept. 1, 2008) (hereinafter "State MSJ Op."). The Court does not repeat that discussion herein, but assumes familiarity with it and expressly incorporates it herein. Having previously concluded that the State Department conducted an adequate search for documents in response to Plaintiff's FOIA/PA request and justified the majority of its withholdings in response to that request, see generally id., the Court only addresses the State Department's withholding of the names of an FBI legal attaché and the names of two FBI agents from Documents P143 and P319 pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

A. Relevant Legal Standard

A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Under the summary judgment standard, the State Department, as the moving party, bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for [its] motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings . . . together with the affidavits which [it] believe[s] demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Plaintiff, in response to Defendant's motion, must "go beyond the pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted).

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment under the FOIA, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the record. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). All underlying facts and inferences are analyzed in the light most favorable to the FOIA requester; as such, summary judgment is only appropriate where an agency proves that it has fully discharged its FOIA obligations. Moore v. Aspin, 916 F. Supp 32, 35 (D.D.C. 1996) (citing Weisberg v. DOJ, 705 F.2d 1344, 1350 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). Summary judgment may be granted on the basis of accompanying agency affidavits or declarations if they 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 evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). These affidavits may be submitted by an official who coordinated the search, and need not be from each individual who participated in the search. See SafeCard Servs., Inc., v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991). Courts must "accord substantial weight" to an agency's affidavits regarding FOIA exemptions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (2004); see also Carney v. DOJ, 19 F.3d 807, 812 (2d Cir. 1994) ("Affidavits submitted by an agency are 'accorded a presumption of good faith.'") (quoting SafeCard Servs., Inc., 926 F.2d at 1200). Significantly, in opposing a motion for summary judgment or cross-moving for summary judgment, a FOIA plaintiff must offer more than conclusory statements. See Broaddrick v. Exec. Office of President, 139 F. Supp. 2d 55, 65 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing Laningham v. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987)).

B. FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C)

As the Court explained in its September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion, FOIA Exemption 6 permits an agency to withhold information contained within "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6); see NARA v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 171 (2004); DOJ v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 773-74 (1989). The term "similar files" is broadly interpreted, such that Exemption 6 protects from disclosure all information that "applies to a particular individual" in the absence of a public interest in disclosure. State Dep't v. Washington Post Co., 456 U.S. 595, 602 (1982) ("In sum, we do not think that Congress meant to limit Exemption 6 to a narrow class of files containing only a discrete kind of personal information. Rather, the exemption was intended to cover detailed Government records on an individual which can be identified as applying to that individual.") (internal quotation and citation omitted). Accordingly, it is not the nature of the files in which the information is contained, but rather the balance of public and private interests that determines the Exemption's scope. Washington Post, 456 U.S. at 599-600.

Pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C), an agency may withhold information within documents "compiled for law enforcement purposes" that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C). A similar privacy interest versus public benefit calculation applies with respect to this Exemption; however, the threshold requirement for FOIA Exemption 7(C) is that the document at issue must have been "compiled for law enforcement purposes." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). The State Department invoked both FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C) in withholding the names of FBI personnel from Documents P143 and P319. The Court already concluded in its September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion that the names withheld from those documents met the threshold test for each Exception because they "appl[y] to an individual" and are contained in documents compiled for law enforcement purposes. See State MSJ Op. at 41-45. The Court does not revisit those conclusions herein.

C. Applying FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C) to Documents P143 and P319

As noted in the Court's September 1, 2008 Memorandum Opinion, while FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C) are similar in requiring the balancing of privacy interests against the public interest in disclosure, they are not coterminous. Beck v. DOJ, 997 F.2d 1489, 1491 (D.C. Cir. 1993). For purposes of FOIA Exemption 7(C), the D.C. Circuit applies a "categorical rule permitting an agency to withhold information identifying private citizens mentioned in law enforcement records, unless disclosure is 'necessary in order to confirm or refute compelling evidence that the agency is engaged in illegal activity.'" Schrecker v. DOJ, 349 F.3d 657, 661 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting SafeCard, 926 F.2d at 1206)). This categorical rule does not necessarily apply with respect to Exemption 6, however, because Exemption 7(C)'s privacy language is broader than the comparable language in Exemption 6." Reporters Comm. at 756. Specifically, "Exemption 6 requires that the invasion of privacy be 'clearly ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.