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Jones v. United States Dep't of Justice

March 10, 2009


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

Document No.: 17




The plaintiff, Marcus DeAngelo Jones, filed this suit under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. The defendants, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") and its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ("ATF"), have filed a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which the plaintiff has opposed. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact and the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court grants the defendants summary judgment and denies judgment for the plaintiff.


Indicted in 1999, the plaintiff is a federal prisoner serving a lengthy sentence for drug and firearms offenses. United States v. Jones, 275 F.3d 673, 678 (8th Cir. 2001). In 2001, he submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ's Executive Office of the U.S. Attorneys ("EOUSA") seeking information relating to his drug investigation and prosecution. See Defs.' Reply, Decl. of Averill P. Graham, ("Graham Decl.") ¶ 3. In processing that request, the EOUSA located 79 pages of documents that had originated with the ATF, and referred those documents to ATF for review and possible release. Id. ¶ 4. The ATF made a full or partial release of all but two of the 79 pages and also offered to release a tape on which nothing could be heard. Id. The plaintiff did not file an administrative appeal regarding his 2001 FOIA request, but did file a civil action, which was assigned Civil Action No. 04-675 (RMU). Id. ¶¶ 5,6.When the EOUSA filed for summary judgment in that action, the plaintiff did not respond, and by order of the court on February 7, 2005, summary judgment was granted as conceded to the defendant agency.*fn1 Id.

In June 2005, the plaintiff filed another FOIA request, addressed particularly to the ATF, seeking

Agent 302 reports and witness interview notes, of witnesses and finding from a drug investigation from the Columbia Police Department, Columbia, Missouri. This case was federally prosecuted in the U.S. District Court Western District of Missouri, Case No. 99-0401-CR. This agency was responsible and participated in collecting evidence, and presenting this case to the Assistant United States Attorney. This request is limited to the above stated information.

Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Decl. of Peter J. Chisholm ("Chisholm Decl.") Ex. E. After a search based on the information provided, the ATF told the plaintiff that it had found no responsive information, that 302 reports are generated by the FBI not the ATF, and that ATF does not maintain records of other agencies. Id. Ex. F. The plaintiff responded by providing his social security number to assist in the search (and erroneously asserting that he had sent it previously). Id. Ex. G. He also stated that "whether this agency calls its investigative reports 302 reports or not I would have hoped that the person handling my request knew what I was saying." Id. He reiterated his request to "be provided with the ATF Reports of Investigation of my drug case, the recommendation for prosecution form, the ATF report of investigation interviews with witnesses." Id. The agency conducted a second search, using the additional information, and located 151 pages of responsive records. See id., Vaughn index. In September 2005, the ATF released part and withheld part of the responsive information. Id. Ex. L. The plaintiff immediately appealed because he believed that the ATF had records regarding his "drug investigation," but had "only disclosed material concerning the firearms investigation and offense." Id. Ex. M. In fact, the complaint stated that the information the ATF released to the plaintiff in 2005 "was the same information disclosed in the year of 2001 [sic]."*fn2 Compl. ¶ 4. In his appeal, the plaintiff did not challenge the basis for withholding the responsive information that was not disclosed. Chisholm Decl. Ex. G. The appeal resulted in affirming the agency's decision. Id. Ex. O. The plaintiff had already filed this lawsuit. Here, too, the plaintiff contests only the adequacy of the search and does not challenge the material withheld pursuant to the statutory exemptions. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-5.


A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

Summary judgment may be granted only where the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Burke v. Gould, 286 F.3d 513, 517 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A material fact is one that is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue is one where the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," id., as opposed to evidence that "is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law," id. at 252. A court considering a motion for summary judgment must draw all "justifiable inferences" from the evidence in favor of the non-movant. Id. at 255.

In a FOIA suit, an agency is entitled to summary judgment once it satisfies its burden of demonstrating that no material facts are in dispute and that it has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant information, Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984), which either has been released to the requestor or is exempt from disclosure, Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001). The agency must show that it made a "good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested." Oglesby v. Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990); see also Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C. Cir. 1998). A search need not be exhaustive. Miller v United States Dep't of State, 779 F.2d 1378, 1383 (8th Cir. 1985). Furthermore, the adequacy of a search is not determined by its results, but by the method of the search itself, Weisberg, 745 F.2d at 1485, and a court is guided in this determination by principles of reasonableness, Oglesby, ...

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