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Frederick Banks v. Department of Justice

December 23, 2010

FREDERICK BANKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff filed a ten-count Complaint under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, see 5 U.S.C. § 552a, against various government entities, alleging their failure to release requested information about himself, other individuals, and corporate entities. This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's FOIA claim against the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") (Counts Nine and Ten), a component of the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant summary judgment for the BOP and deny plaintiff's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff submitted three FOIA requests to the BOP, one of which is relevant to this action. See Notice of Filing [Dkt. #23], Decl. of Kathleen Quigley ("Quigley Decl.") ¶¶ 3-4.*fn1

That request, assigned Request Number 2006-00951, sought "every record in [BOP's] system about [plaintiff], that pertains to [him], or mentions [him] by name." Id. ¶ 4; see id., Ex. 1 (FOIA/PA Request dated September 24, 2005) & Ex. 2 (Letter from H.J. Sadowski, Regional Counsel, Northeast Regional Office, BOP, dated November 22, 2005). The BOP released 103 pages of records in full and withheld four pages in full under FOIA Exemptions 5, 6, 7(C), and 7(F). Quigley Decl. ¶ 8; see id., Ex. 3 (Letter from H.J. Sadowski dated December 12, 2005).

The Court already has concluded that the BOP's searches for records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request were adequate and reasonable under the circumstances. Banks v. Dep't of Justice, 605 F. Supp. 2d 131, 140 (D.D.C. 2009). Missing from the record at that time was an explanation for the agency's decision to withhold in full "four pages of records found in plaintiff's Central and Medical Files" under the claimed exemptions. Id. The BOP since has released in its entirety one additional page, described as "a Victim Notification Record which consists of log entries obtained for law enforcement purposes." Def. Bureau of Prisons' Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of its Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("BOP Mem."), Decl. of Vanessa Herbin-Smith ("Herbin-Smith Decl.") ¶ 7; see id., Ex. 4 (Victim Notification Record).*fn2

At issue are the three remaining pages, described as "a one page Notification Report print out from the Victim Notification System (VNS) . . . and a two page letter from the BOP concerning victim-witness procedures which include[] sensitive victim information (the 'letter')," Herbin-Smith Decl. ¶ 7, from which information has been redacted under FOIA Exemptions 7(C) and 7(F), see Banks v. Dep't of Justice, 700 F. Supp. 2d 9, 18 (D.D.C. 2010).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case "A party claiming relief may move, with or without supporting affidavits, for summary judgment on all or part of [a] claim." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The Court generally should render the judgment sought "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)(2). 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).

In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided in affidavits or declarations when these submissions 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. Exemption 7

1. Law Enforcement Records

FOIA Exemption 7 protects from disclosure "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7), if the material satisfies the requirements of one of the subparts of Exemption 7, see Pratt v. Webster, 673 F.2d 408, 413 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In assessing whether records are compiled for law enforcement purposes, the "focus is on how and under what circumstances the requested files were compiled, and whether the files sought relate to anything that can fairly be characterized as an enforcement proceeding." Jefferson v. Dep't of Justice, 284 F.3d 172, 176-77 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citations and internal quotations omitted). The BOP asserts that the three pages of records at issue in this case were compiled for law enforcement purposes. See BOP Mem. at 6-8.

The declarant explains that the BOP is a law enforcement agency, the principal mission of which "is to protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons . . . that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens." BOP Mem., Supp. Decl. of Vanessa Herbin Smith ("Supp. Herbin-Smith Decl.") ΒΆ 7. That mission ...


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