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James Lutcher Negley v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

August 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler U.S. District Court Judge


Plaintiff James Luther Negley ("Plaintiff"), brings this action against Defendant, Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI" or "Defendant"), under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration [Dkt. No. 111]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration is denied.


This case concerns a FOIA dispute between Negley and the FBI which has been ongoing for over nine years. On January 16, 2002, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request ("2002 FOIA request") to the FBI's San Francisco Field Office ("SFFO") seeking "a copy of any records about [him] maintained at and by the FBI in [the San Francisco] field office." On August 24, 2007, after several years of litigation regarding the specifics of the FBI's FOIA responsibilities, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 71], arguing that Defendant's search and production of documents were inadequate as a matter of law, and failed to comply with his FOIA request. On the same day, Defendant filed a Second Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims raised by Plaintiff [Dkt. No. 72].

On June 15, 2009, unbeknownst to the Court, Plaintiff submitted a separate, expansive FOIA request ("2009 FOIA request") to Defendant, seeking "all records in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating, in any way, to James Lutcher Negley." Eighth Hardy Decl. ¶ 10, Apr. 22, 2010 [Dkt. No. 103-3]. Neither party informed the Court of Plaintiff's June 2009 request.

On September 24, 2009, this Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and denied Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Defendant's search for responsive documents was inadequate, and that Defendant's production of documents was insufficient. Negley v. FBI, 658 F. Supp. 2d 50, 56-61 (D.D.C. 2009). The Court entered a very detailed Order, requiring Defendant to conduct certain searches, produce material to Plaintiff, and make its affiants available for deposition, all to satisfy Plaintiff's 2002 FOIA request. Order 1-4, Sept. 24, 2009 (the "September 24, 2009, Order") [Dkt. No. 90]. Over the following several months, Defendant took steps to comply with the September 24, 2009, Order.

On April 5, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Contempt for Defendant's Failure to Comply with the Court's September 24, 2009, Order ("Pl.'s Mot. for Contempt") [Dkt. No. 102]. On March 1, 2011, this Court denied Plaintiff's motion, finding that the FBI searched for and produced all documents responsive to Plaintiff's 2002 FOIA request and required by the Court's "reasonably clear and unambiguous" September 24, 2009, Order. Negley v. F.B.I., 766 F. Supp. 2d 190, 196 (D.D.C. 2011) (hereinafter "March 1, 2011, Opinion" or "Opinion").

Subsequently, on March 9, 2011, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Reconsideration ("Pl.'s Mot.") of the March 1, 2011, Order denying Plaintiff's motion for contempt. On March 25, 2011, Defendant filed its Opposition ("Def.'s Opp'n") [Dkt. No. 113]. On April 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed his Reply [Dkt. No. 114].


A district court may revise its own interlocutory decisions "at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). A motion for reconsideration of a contempt motion against a party to the dispute is properly considered under Rule 54(b). See S.E.C. v. Bilzerian, 729 F. Supp. 2d 9, 12-13 (D.D.C. 2010) ("[C]courts usually analyze motions for reconsideration of civil contempt orders under Rule 54(b) . . . .").

Rule 54(b) permits the district court to reconsider an interlocutory order "as justice requires." Singh v. George Washington Univ., 383 F. Supp. 2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C. 2004)). The term "'[a]s justice requires' indicates concrete considerations" by the court, Williams v. Savage, 569 F. Supp. 2d 99, 108 (D.D.C. 2008), such as "whether the court patently misunderstood the parties, made a decision beyond the adversarial issues presented, made an error in failing to consider controlling decisions or data, or whether a controlling or significant change in the law has occurred." In Def. of Animals v. Nat'l Inst. of Health, 543 F. Supp. 2d 70, 75 (D.D.C. 2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

"Furthermore, the party moving to reconsider carries the burden of proving that some harm would accompany a denial of the motion to reconsider." Id. at 76. The court's discretion under 54(b) is "subject to the caveat that, where litigants have once battled for the court's decision, they should neither be required, nor without good reason permitted, to battle for it again." Singh, 383 F. Supp. 2d at 101 (internal citations omitted).


Plaintiff urges the Court to reconsider its March 1, 2011, Opinion denying his motion for contempt. Plaintiff does not rely on any newly discovered evidence or changes in the law to support his Motion. Instead, Plaintiff argues that the Court (1) "mischaracterizes Negley's 2002 FOIA request as seeking documents only maintained at and by the San Francisco Field Office," and (2) "misunderstand[s]" the effect of Negley's 2009 FOIA request. Pl.'s Mot. 1-2, 4. In essence, Plaintiff seeks to have this Court reconsider the geographic scope of his 2002 FOIA request and the reasonableness ...

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