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Harrison v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

February 3, 2010

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before this Court once again. First, the plaintiff has filed a motion seeking reconsideration of a prior decision disposing of multiple claims. Second, the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") has filed a renewed motion for summary judgment with respect to the three FOIA claims left unresolved by the Court's earlier decision. Because the BOP now has demonstrated that it has complied fully with the requirements of the FOIA, its motion for summary judgment on the three still-pending FOIA claims will be granted. Because the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration offers no basis for reconsideration, it will be denied. A final order will be entered, and the case will be terminated.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court previously disposed of all claims pending before it except claims brought pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 ("FOIA"), relating to three specific requests made by the plaintiff. See Harrison v. Fed. Bur. of Prisons, 611 F. Supp. 2d 54 (D.D.C. 2009).*fn1 The unresolved matters were (1) whether the searches conducted by the BOP in response to FOIA Requests # 07-7829, # 07-10206, and # 08-2180 were reasonable and adequate; and (2) whether the exemption cited for withholding four pages responsive to FOIA Request #07-10206 was adequately explained and justified. See id. at 67, 68-69. As to those three FOIA requests only, the defendant was denied summary judgment without prejudice to renew its motion. Id. at 69. All other claims were either dismissed or resolved by judgment for the defendant. Id.

The plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Pl.'s Mot. for Recons., in which he asserts that in its prior decision the Court relied on two errors of fact, id. at 1, and made an error of law in permitting the defendant to file a renewed motion for summary judgment, id. at 5, 6. In addition, the plaintiff makes arguments relating to claims that are not on the record and not before the Court, id. at 2-5, contends that he has "prevailed" on his claims and therefore is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs, id. at 5-6, and argues that the agency sworn statement on segregable information is impermissibly conclusory with respect to a certain March 14, 2006 telephone conversation between the plaintiff and a third party. Id. at 4.

The defendant filed a renewed motion for summary judgment with additional declarations on the three remaining claims. In addition, upon receipt of a May 11, 2009 privacy waiver by a third party, the defendant decided to release a copy of the March 14, 2006 telephone conversation that the plaintiff had sought. See Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Recons., Decl. of Lynnell Cox. ¶¶ 6-7 (June 12, 2009). The plaintiff opposes the motion for summary judgment primarily by attempting to discredit the agency declarations as laced with falsehoods and impossibilities, Pl.'s Opp'n ¶¶ 7-11, and by arguing that the "BOP made no further search, as directed by the Court." Id. ¶ 11. The plaintiff also argues that summary judgment should be denied because his "questions" were not answered, id. ¶¶ 12, 15, and because other claims remain pending. Id. ¶ 5 ("Although the court granted summary judgment to Defendants on [certain] FOIA request[s] . . . , the court never decided Harrison's Due Process and Equal Protection violations claims with respect thereto. Consequently, those claims are still very much alive.").

II. DISCUSSION

A. Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is the procedural vehicle by which FOIA cases typically are resolved. Reliant Energy Power Generation, Inc., v. FERC, 520 F. Supp.2d 194, 200 (D.D.C. 2007). At the time the defendant filed its renewed motion for summary judgment in this case, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allowed a defendant to file such a motion "at any time." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b) (effective until December 1, 2009).*fn2 Rule 56 does not require that discovery be either initiated or completed before a motion for summary judgment is made or decided. While in certain types of cases discovery assists in the resolution of motions for summary judgment, "[d]iscovery is not favored in lawsuits under the FOIA." Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of Justice, 185 F. Supp. 2d 54, 65 (D.D.C. 2002).

On a motion for summary judgment "[t]he inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for a trial ---- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Summary judgment "should be rendered 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 the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see 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. at 248. 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. In a FOIA suit, an agency is entitled to summary judgment once it bears its burden of demonstrating that no material facts are in dispute and that all information responsive to the request either has been produced, is unidentifiable, or is exempt from disclosure. Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 627 F.2d 365, 368 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

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. The nonmoving party, however, must do more than simply "show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

Rather, the non-movant must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)) (emphasis in original). In the end, "the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

A court may award summary judgment to a FOIA defendant solely on the basis of information provided by an agency in sworn statements with reasonably specific detail that justify the nondisclosures, 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. Larson v. Dep't of State, 565 F.3d 857, 864-65 (D.C. Cir. 2009); Miller v. Casey, 730 F.2d 773, 776 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir.1981). An agency's sworn statement is entitled to a presumption of good faith. SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. Sec. and Exchange Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991). Speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of documents is insufficient to rebut the presumption of good faith accorded agency affidavits. Flowers v. IRS, 307 F. Supp. 2d 60, 67 (D.D.C. 2004). To successfully challenge an agency's showing that it complied ...


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