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Holt v. United States Dep't of Justice

August 26, 2010

MARVIN LEON HOLT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, against the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ").*fn1 This matter is currently before the Court on the DOJ's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Requests to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA")

1. Request No. 08-869

The plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the EOUSA on March 5, 2002. Complaint ("Compl.") at 2. He sought the following information:

[A]ny and all materials for the entire central file that your agency... has compiled to date, relating to me, and a list of whatever information your agency[]... may have designated in this file or any portion thereof, and the reason for each designation, and the name of the person and his or her title requesting same.

Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment on Behalf of Defendants Executive Office for United States Attorneys and Federal Bureau of Investigation ("Def.'s Mem."), Declaration ("Decl.") of David Luczynski ("Luczynski Decl."), Exhibit ("Ex.") A (FOIA Request) at 1.*fn2 EOUSA staff assigned to the portion of the request seeking access to records about himself a tracking number, Request Number ("No.") 02-857. Id., Luczynski Decl. ¶ 6.

On April 11, 2007, the EOUSA advised the plaintiff that two boxes of potentially responsive records had been located at the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia ("USAO DDC").*fn3 Compl. at 3-4; Def.'s Mem., Luczynski Decl. ¶ 8. In order to limit the potential fees incurred for searching and copying so many records, the EOUSA informed the plaintiff of his opportunity to reformulate his request. Def.'s Mem., Luczynski Decl., Ex. E (April 11, 2007 letter from W.G. Stewart II, Assistant Director, FOIA and Privacy Act Staff, EOUSA, DOJ). The plaintiff's reformulated FOIA request read as follows:

I was indicted [on] [November] 12, 1992, criminal No. F-8825-92. I am requesting the testimony of Janet, Lawence, Irving Miller, Edith Diane Moye, Qugustine Williams, Tracy Locks, Karen Thompson, Curtis Dixon, Tyrone Thomas, Rober Smith, Mark Williams, Michael Williams and Jake. I am requesting everything pertaining to this case, with the exception of the trial transcript, Michael Baylor and Carolyn grand jury statements. I am requesting the investigators [sic] notes of Michael Baylor, Jame[s] F. Johnson, Viv[i]an Coleman and Charles Culver.

Id., Ex. F (April 20, 2007 reformulated FOIA request). The EOUSA assigned the portion of reformulated request for records about the plaintiff a new tracking number, Request No. 08-869.*fn4

Id., Ex. G (April 2, 2008 letter from W.G. Stewart II) at 1; see Compl. at 4.

On April 17, 2009, the EOUSA released to the plaintiff six pages of records in full and 20 pages of records in part, after having redacted certain information under FOIA Exemptions 7(C), 7(D), and 7(F). Compl. at 5; Def.'s Mem., Luczynski Decl. ¶ 11. The plaintiff appealed this decision administratively to the DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy ("OIP"), Def.'s Mem., Luczyinski Decl. ¶¶ 12-13; see Compl. at 5, and the OIP affirmed the EOUSA's action, Def.'s Mem., Luczynski Decl. ¶ 14.

2. Request Nos. 09-1701 and 09-2392

In 2009, the plaintiff submitted a FOIA request directly to the USAO DDC. Compl. at 6. He sought the following information:

[A]ny and all records, information, reports, or other files that relate to me specifically and/or make reference to me indirectly in regards to a homicide that occurred on or about May 14, 1992, in the Northeastern secture [sic] of Washington, DC, at about 1:30 AM. The victim's name is LEWIS McCLAIN, but this request should not be construed as requesting information of [a] personal nature related to Mr. McCLAIN. I was tried and convicted of Mr. McCLAIN's murder in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. This request is made to discover any evidence that may serve to exonerate me of Mr. McCLAIN's death, or serve to support my post-conviction litigation.

Def.'s Mem., Luczynski Decl., Ex. M (April 21, 2009 letter to the USAO DDC) at 2. The request was forwarded to the EOUSA for processing, id., Ex. N (May 7, 2009 letter from A.L. Dennis, FOIA Paralegal Specialist, Civil Division, USAO DDC), and the EOUSA assigned it a tracking number, Request No. 09-1701, see id., Ex. O (May 18, 2009 letter from W.G. Stewart II) at 1. The EOUSA also closed this request because the plaintiff had not submitted proof of his identity. Id., Ex. O at 1-2. Upon receipt of the plaintiff's certificate of identity, and upon review of the request, EOUSA staff determined that the request, assigned Request No. 09-2392, was a duplicate, and closed it administratively. Id., Luczyinski Decl. ¶¶ 18-19.

B. Request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI")

In January 2009, the plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the FBI's Washington, D.C. field office. Compl. at 6. He sought the following information: any and all records, information, reports or other files that relate to me specifically and/or make reference to me indirectly in regards to a homicide that occurred on or about May 14, 1992, in the Northeastern secture [sic] of Washington, DC, at about 1:30 AM.

The victim's name is LEWIS McCLAIN, but this request should not be construed as requesting information of [a] personal nature related to Mr. McCLAIN. I was tried and convicted of Mr. McCLAIN's murder in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. This request is made to discover any evidence that may serve to exonerate me of Mr. McCLAIN's death, or serve to support my post-conviction litigation. Def.'s Mem., Declaration of Dennis J. Argall ("Argall Decl."), Ex. FBI-A (FOIA Request). The field office forwarded the request to FBI Headquarters ("FBIHQ") for processing. Id., Ex. FBIB (February 4, 2009 letter from D.M. Hardy, Section Chief, Record/Information Dissemination Section, Records Management Division, FBIHQ). FBIHQ staff assigned the request a tracking number, FOIPA No. 1125838-000, id., and on April 30, 2009, the agency released 24 pages of records in part, after having redacted certain information under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), id., Ex. FBI-C at 1. These records originated from Washington Field Office file 88A-WF-182216. Id. at 2.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

The Court will grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, together with any affidavits or declarations, 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 the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[A] material fact is 'genuine'... if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits or declarations or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992). In opposing a summary judgment motion, a party may not "replace conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit," Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990), but rather must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted).

In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on information provided in an agency's 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, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

"In opposing a motion for summary judgment or cross-moving for summary judgment, a FOIA plaintiff must offer more than conclusory statements." Schoenman v. FBI, 573 F. Supp. 2d 119, 134 (D.D.C. 2008) (citations omitted). Rather, "a plaintiff pursuing an action under FOIA must establish that either: (1) the Vaughn index does not establish that the documents were properly withheld; (2) the agency has improperly claimed an exemption as a matter of law; or (3) the agency has failed to segregate and disclose all nonexempt material in the requested documents." Id. (citations omitted).

B. Searches for Records Responsive to the Plaintiff's FOIA

Requests "An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Valencia- Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990)); see also Steinberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail the scope and method of the agency's search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance ...


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