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Quinto v. United States Dep't of Justice

May 11, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff Leigh Quinto is an inmate at the Federal Bureau of Prisons' ("BOPs'") United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana. (Compl. ¶ 3.) He has filed a complaint against the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), alleging violation of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), including the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 551-559. Before the Court are defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. Based on its in camera review of the documents at issue and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court will grant defendant's motion and deny plaintiff's motion.


Plaintiff was found guilty of distribution of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and was sentenced to a 240-month sentence in 2007. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts As To Which There Are No Genuine Issues ["Pl.'s SMF"] ¶ 2.) Plaintiff was initially classified by the BOP as a "medium security inmate" and designated to Edgefield FCI, a medium security BOP facility. (Id. ¶ 3; see also Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts As To Which There Are No Genuine Issues ["Def.'s SMF Resp."] at 1 n.1.) After arriving at Edgefield, plaintiff was told that his security classification had been repealed and that he had been re-classified as a "high security inmate." (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 3.) Plaintiff was subsequently designated to USP Pollock, a high security facility. (Id.)

In August 2008, plaintiff filed an informal resolution with USP Pollock officials, inquiring as to the reason for his reclassification as high security and requesting that his security management level score be lowered based on his detainer status and age. (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff's request was denied, and plaintiff was informed that his re-designation as a high security inmate was based on information received from the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida. (Pl.'s SMF, Attach. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff was also informed that the AUSA who had provided this information continued to believe that higher security was required for plaintiff, and that plaintiff's Unit Team at Pollock concurred. (Id.) As such, plaintiff was told that the Management Variable ("MV") of Greater Security previously applied to him would be extended, and that he would remain at a high security level. (Id.)

On September 24, 2008, plaintiff filed a FOIA request with the BOP's Central Office, seeking "any information received by officials at USP Pollock from the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida, indicating a need for [plaintiff's] higher security designation." (Decl. of Larry Collins ["Collins Decl."], Attach. 1.) On October 14, 2008, Larry Collins, a BOP Paralegal Specialist at the South Central Regional Office (SCRO) conducted a search for records responsive to plaintiff's request and asked the staff at USP Pollock to do the same. (Id. ¶ 5.) The staff at Pollock responded to the request and provided the SCRO with five pages of responsive documents. (Id.)

On October 17, 2008, the regional counsel for the SCRO responded to plaintiff's FOIA request, indicating that information received by the BOP from other law enforcement agencies regarding inmate security concerns is exempt from release pursuant to FOIA § 552(b)(2) and (b)(7)(F). (Id., Attach. 2; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 8.) The letter neither confirmed nor denied that documents responsive to plaintiff's request had been located. (Collins Decl., Attach. 2) Plaintiff appealed the BOP's response to the Office of Information Policy ("OIP"), which upheld the BOP's "Glomar" response to plaintiff's FOIA request in a letter dated September 24, 2009. (Id., Attach. 3.) The OIP further stated that if records responsive to plaintiff's request did exist, they would be protected from disclosure under FOIA Exemptions 2 and 7(F). (Id.)

Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on November 3, 2009, challenging the BOP's interpretation of the FOIA exemptions as arbitrary and capricious and arguing that neither Exemption 2 nor 7(F) protects the information he seeks. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-16.) Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the five pages of documents responsive to plaintiff's request are exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemptions 7(C) and 7(F).*fn1 (Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. In Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. ["Def.'s Mot."] at 2.) DOJ includes with its motion a Vaughn index identifying the documents withheld and explaining why disclosure would harm the interests protected by the claimed FOIA exemptions. (Id.); see also Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973). Defendant has also submitted the five documents at issue for the Court's in camera review. Plaintiff argues that there is a public interest in these documents and that DOJ has failed to demonstrate that it is unable to segregate any exempt portions of the documents from non-exempt portions. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ["Pl.'s Opp'n"] at 4-7.)



FOIA reflects a "general philosophy of full agency disclosure unless information is exempted under clearly delineated statutory language." Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360-61 (1976) (quoting S. Rep. No. 89-813, at 3 (1965)). Thus, federal agencies must make their records promptly available to any person who makes a proper request for them unless the agency establishes that the information is appropriately withheld under one or more of the nine exemptions set forth in the statute. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)-(b). The nine exemptions are exclusive and should be narrowly construed. Rose, 425 U.S. at 361. When a challenge is made to an agency's decision to withhold information, the "burden is on the agency to sustain its action," and the district court is instructed to "determine the matter de novo." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). Even if some of the requested records contain exempt information, "the agency must still release 'any reasonably segregable portion' after deletion of the nondisclosable portions." Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of Army, 79 F.3d 1172, 1176 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)).

"At the same time, of course, it must be recognized that FOIA represents a carefully considered balance between the right of the public to know what their government is up to and the often compelling interest that the government has in keeping certain information private, whether to protect particular individuals or the national interest as a whole." Am. Civil Liberties Union v. FBI, 429 F. Supp. 2d 179, 186-87 (D.D.C. 2006). "As such, the exemptions must be given 'meaningful reach and application,'" id. at 187 (quoting John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 152 (1989)), as they "represent[] the congressional determination of the types of information that the Executive Branch must have the option to keep confidential, if it so chooses." Rose, 425 U.S. at 361.

"FOIA cases appropriately may be decided on motions for summary judgment." Bigwood v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., 484 F. Supp. 2d 68, 73 (D.D.C. 2007). In deciding whether information has been properly withheld under FOIA exemptions, the Court may rely on affidavits or declarations from the agency. See SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991). Alternatively or in addition to such affidavits, the reviewing court "may examine the contents of such agency records in camera to determine whether such records or any part thereof shall be withheld under any of the exemptions." 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(a)(4)(B). But "whether the Court relies on affidavits or declarations, an in camera review of the documents, or . . . both, an agency must demonstrate that 'each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced, is ...

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