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Rudy Stanko v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

February 3, 2012

RUDY STANKO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pro se Plaintiff Rudy Stanko was at the time he filed this suit a federal prisoner. Now released, this prolific litigant maintains yet another action against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, this one pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. He claims that BOP has wrongfully withheld documents that he is entitled to under FOIA. On July 6, 2011, this Court issued a lengthy Memorandum Opinion granting in part and denying in part BOP's Motion for Summary Judgment. Now that Defendant believes it has cured the deficiencies addressed in the Opinion, it has once again brought a dispositive motion. This time it succeeds in full.

I.Background

The history of this litigation is set out in the Court's prior Opinion. See ECF No. 31. For current purposes, a very brief summary will suffice. This case stems from five separate FOIA requests that Plaintiff submitted to BOP between February 2009 and April 2010. The Court granted summary judgment to BOP in regard to the second, third, and fourth requests, but found BOP's position insufficient as to the first and fifth. The first, FOIA No. 2009-7754, related to a box and an envelope of documents confiscated from Plaintiff's cell. The Court held that "[t]he contents of the confiscated box and envelope responsive to this request must be catalogued in greater detail and, if withheld, such withholding must be supported by valid exemptions on a document-by-document or category-by-category basis." Mem. Op. at 31. As to the fifth request, FOIA No. 2009-7080, the Court found the exemptions and withholding proper, but could not determine the adequacy of the search. As a result, it ordered that "Defendant must provide further detail about the search conducted." Id. at 32.

BOP, four months later, has filed a renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, setting forth how it addressed the Court's previous concerns. Specifically, BOP details the particulars of its search in regard to No. 7080 and provides a detailed Vaughn Index explaining which documents it withheld and under what exemptions for No. 7754. See Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 826 (D.C. Cir. 1973) ("[C]courts will simply no longer accept conclusory and generalized allegations of exemptions[] . . . but will require a relatively detailed analysis in manageable segments.").

Plaintiff not only opposed the renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, but he also filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). 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, 322 (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. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations 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).

FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment. Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F. Supp. 2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009); Bigwood v. United States Agency for Int'l Dev., 484 F. Supp. 2d 68, 73 (D.D.C. 2007). A defendant agency seeking summary judgment in a FOIA case must demonstrate that no material facts are in dispute, that it has conducted an adequate search for responsive records, and that each responsive record that it has located has been produced to the plaintiff or is exempt from disclosure. Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001). In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based solely on information provided in an agency's affidavits or declarations if they are relatively detailed and "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)).

III.Analysis

A. Adequacy of Search in 2009-7080

Plaintiff's request labeled FOIA 2009-7080 sought records regarding his transfer between federal prisons and separation orders concerning him. See Mem. Op. at 23 (detailing full request). The Court faulted BOP's declarations regarding the extent of the search because "no indication is given of what sources of information were searched, or by whom, or by what means." Id. at 25. Instead, "[t]he agency's declarations offer only that NCRO coordinated a search for responsive records with a BOP field office, and that 'BOP's search was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Id. at 24 (citing BOP declaration). The Court thus denied summary judgment.

BOP has since rectified its omission. Its renewed Motion attaches the Declaration of Jennifer Wrede, a paralegal specialist at FCC Terre Haute, which explains in painstaking detail the search she conducted for responsive records. For example, she explained how she searched Inmate Central Files, which are sorted by housing unit and each divided into six different sections. See Motion, Exh. 3 (Decl. of Jennifer Wrede), at 3. In addition, she looked in Plaintiff's Privacy Folder, located "on top of Section 5 of the inmate's Central File." Id. at 3-4. This is clearly sufficient to constitute an adequate search.

In the context of FOIA, "to meet its burden to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists, with the facts viewed in the light most favorable to the requester, the agency must demonstrate that it has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Weisberg v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (internal quotations omitted). There is no requirement that an agency search every record system in response to a FOIA request, but only those records that are likely to have responsive documents. Porter v. C.I.A., 778 F. Supp. 2d 60, 69 (D.D.C. 2011). The adequacy of an agency's search is measured by a standard of reasonableness under the attendant circumstances. Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990). In making its showing, an agency may employ reasonably detailed, nonconclusory affidavits, submitted in good faith. Id. Generally, when an agency has done so, a plaintiff must provide specific evidence suggesting that ...


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