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Thompson v. Executive Office for United States Attorneys

November 24, 2008

JAMES EARL THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, DEFENDANT.



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

Document No: 14

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, the plaintiff challenges the response of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA") to his request for records pertaining to his criminal case. The defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the entire record, the court grants the defendant's motion.

II. BACKGROUND

It is undisputed that by letter of February 10, 2005, the plaintiff requested records "containing reports/and or records on carrying a pistole [sic] without a license: In reference to the case of Thompson v. United States Case No-F-3103-96 (myself)." Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1 (Decl. of Karen M. Finnegan ["Finnegan Decl."], Ex. A.). Following EOUSA's acknowledgment of the request by letter of March 25, 2005, the plaintiff submitted to the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP") a document dated April 3, 2005 captioned "Privacy Act Appeal; Response to 3/25/05 correspondence." Finnegan Decl., Ex. C. "In order to expedite the processing of the request," the plaintiff indicated that he was revising his FOIA request to include only "[t]he sentencing transcripts following the trial, dated 12/17/96 [and] [t]he transcripts of the grand jury testimony and police statements of Andre Wright, an exculpatory witness in the case." Id. By letter of April 28, 2006, EOUSA informed the plaintiff that a search for records in the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia located no responsive records and advised him of his right to appeal the decision to OIP. Id., Ex. F.

In response to the plaintiff's filing of this civil action on October 15, 2007, EOUSA conducted another search and, by letter of May 15, 2008, informed the plaintiff that it had located a 41-page grand jury transcript dated May 16, 1996 and a three-page grand jury exhibit consisting of Wright's statement. Id., Ex. G. EOUSA further informed the plaintiff that the grand jury material was exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 3, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (listing FOIA exemptions); that Wright's statement was also exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7(C); and that it did not locate the requested sentencing transcript.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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 judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position, id. at 252, and may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). The nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Greene, 164 F.3d at 675. If the nonmoving party's evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id. The FOIA mandates full public disclosure of agency records unless the requested records "fall squarely" within one or more of the nine statutory exemptions. Wash. Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Agric., 943 F. Supp. 31, 33 (D.D.C. 1996) (quoting Burka v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 87 F.3d 508, 515 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). The court may award summary judgment solely on the information provided in affidavits or declarations that describe "the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail . . . 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); see also Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974). A "court shall accord substantial weight to an affidavit of an agency concerning the agency's determination as to [exempted material under] subsection (b)," 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), and such affidavits or declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith." Long v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 450 F. Supp. 2d 42, 54 (D.D.C. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the plaintiff challenges the defendant's invocation of FOIA exemptions 3 and 7(C) to justify its withholding of responsive records.

B. The Defendant Properly Invoked FOIA Exemption 3

Exemption 3 covers records that are "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute . . . provided that such statute either '(A) [requires withholding] in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue,' or '(B) establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.'" 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3); see also Senate of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. U. S. Dep't of Justice, 823 F.2d 574, 582 (D.C. Cir. 1987). The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibit disclosure of "matters occurring before [a] grand jury." FED. R. CRIM. P. 6(e)(2); see In re: Motions of Dow Jones & Co., Inc., 142 F.3d 496, 498-501 (D.C. Cir. 1998). Rule ...


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