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Coleman v. Lappin

January 27, 2010

MONROE L. COLEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARLEY LAPPIN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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's renewed motion for summary judgment.*fn1 After having considered the motion, Plaintiff's opposition, and the record of this case, the Court will grant summary judgment for Defendant.

I. BACKGROUND

In June 2006, Plaintiff submitted a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, to the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") for the following:

[A]ll records and/or data contained in the files regarding BOP former worker Kimberly Moore, including disciplinary report filed against [plaintiff] by Mrs. Kimberly Moore who was terminated for indulging in wrongful acts as a BOP worker during 2005 or 2006, which it requested that any and all investigations on the named party Mrs[.] Kimberly Moore be released to requester. This disciplinary report and the requested investigation(s) took place at Big Sandy USP which is located in Inez, Kentucky during the year of 2005 and/or 2006.

Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss or, in the Alternative[,] Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #17], Decl. of Sharon Massey ("Massey Decl."), Attach. B (Plaintiff's FOIA Request) at 1. The Court already has determined that the BOP properly withheld information under FOIA Exemptions 2, 5, and 6 (where the BOP relied on Exemption 6 alone), Coleman v. Lappin, 607 F. Supp. 2d 15, 21-22 (D.D.C. 2009), and that the records responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request were compiled for law enforcement purposes within the scope of FOIA Exemption 7. Id. at 23-24. Because the BOP had not explained adequately its decision to redact certain information under FOIA Exemption 6 in conjunction with Exemption 7 and Exemptions 7(C), 7(E), and 7(F), the Court denied Defendant's previous summary judgment motion without prejudice. See id. at 25.

At issue are 164 pages of records responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request. Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") [Dkt. #46], Decl. of Denise M. Gottleib ("Gottleib II Decl.") [Dkt. #47] ¶ 7. The BOP represents that, since the Court issued its March 18, 2009 Memorandum Opinion and Order, "the Attorney General has provided new guidelines for Justice Department agencies to follow when addressing [FOIA] requests." Id. ¶ 3. Application of the new guidelines results in the disclosure of additional information: the BOP has released 83 pages of records "in their entirety pursuant to the new FOIA directives by the President of the United States," id. ¶ 11, and it no longer withholds any information under FOIA Exemptions 7(E) or 7(F). Id. ¶ 10. However, the BOP continues to withhold portions of 15 pages of records, id. ¶¶ 12-14, 16, and another 24 pages of records in their entirety, id. ¶¶ 18-19, under Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue 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, declarations or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

"FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment." Defenders of Wildlife v. United States Border Patrol, 623 F. Supp. 2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009) (citations omitted). In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided in an agency's supporting affidavits or declarations when they 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). 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. & Exch. Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

B. Exemptions 6 and 7(C)

1. Exemption 6

Exemption 6 protects from disclosure "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). "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." Lardner v. Dep't of Justice, 638 F. Supp. 2d 14, 23 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting United States Dep't of State v. Washington Post Co., 456 U.S. 595, 602 (1982)). The threshold is "fairly minimal," and "[a]ll information which applies to a particular individual is covered by Exemption 6, regardless of the type of file in which it is contained." Washington Post Co. v. United States Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 252, 260 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (quoting Washington Post, 456 U.S. at 602) (internal quotation marks omitted). In this way, the "FOIA's protection of personal privacy is not affected by the happenstance of the type of agency record in which ...


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