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Alma T. Augustus v. John Mchugh

July 2, 2012

ALMA T. AUGUSTUS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN MCHUGH, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pro se plaintiff Alma Augustus asserts a claim under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the Secretary of the United States Army, arising from the Secretary's redactions of a Report of Investigation ("ROI") concerning a discrimination complaint Augustus filed against three Army employees.*fn1 The Secretary renews his motion for summary judgment regarding his assertions of FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6), (7)(C). Augustus opposes, challenging as inadmissible and incompetent evidence multiple documents contained in the record. Because much of the evidence Augustus challenges does not bear upon whether the redactions of the ROI were legally permissible, and because the Secretary's arguments supporting the FOIA redactions are unopposed, summary judgment will be entered for the Secretary.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Augustus, an African-American woman, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army National Guard Bureau ("NGB") assigned to active duty as an Automation Officer at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia. (Am. Compl. at 1.) See Augustus v. McHugh, 825 F. Supp. 2d 245, 248-49 (D.D.C. 2011). She alleges that she was unlawfully denied a promotion and suffered from other unlawful forms of discrimination and retaliation after she voiced concerns about the NGB's alleged discriminatory personnel policies and procedures. (Am. Compl. at 2-3.) See Augustus, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 249.

Augustus asserts that the NGB's discriminatory motives underlying its failure to promote her were memorialized in an ROI prepared by Major General Peter Gravett in March of 2001. (Am. Compl. at 5 ¶ 7.) See Augustus, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 249. She claims that the ROI "substantiated [her] unlawful gender and race discrimination" claims and recommended that she be promoted retroactively to the rank of Colonel. (Am. Compl. at 5 ¶ 7.) See Augustus, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 249. Augustus claims further that Lieutenant General Roger Schultz and Major General James T. Jackson approved a separate ROI and deemed Gravett's ROI procedurally and substantively flawed and disregarded its recommendations. Augustus, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 249. She asked for an unredacted copy of the Gravett ROI but the NGB provided only a redacted one. (Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2.) She filed this action seeking, in part, an unredacted copy. The Secretary supplied as a Vaughn index*fn2 an employee's declaration stating that each redaction was accompanied by a code corresponding to the agency's reasons for withholding the information. Contrary to that description, however, a careful review of the ROI revealed a paucity of coded designations and no basis to conclude that the NGB properly withheld the redacted information under FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). Augustus, 825 F. Supp. 2d at 255. Thus, although Augustus's motion for summary judgment and for an unredacted copy of Gravett's ROI was denied without prejudice, the Secretary later filed as directed, id. at 260-61, a redacted copy of Gravett's ROI reflecting more fully the coded designations identified in the Secretary's Vaughn index.

The Secretary now moves for summary judgment as to Augustus's FOIA claim and his redactions under exemptions 6 and 7(C).

DISCUSSION

"'[T]he central purpose of the summary judgment device . . . is to weed out those cases insufficiently meritorious to warrant the expense of a jury trial.'" Moore v. Hartman, 730 F. Supp. 2d 174, 178 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999)). Summary judgment is proper "when the pleadings and evidence show 'that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Akers v. Beal Bank, Civil Action No. 09-0724 (RMU), 2012 WL 639287, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2012) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)).

"'To survive a motion for summary judgment, the party bearing the burden of proof at trial . . . must provide evidence showing that there is a triable issue as to an element essential to that party's claim.'" Etheridge v. FedChoice Fed. Credit Union, 789 F. Supp. 2d 27, 32 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 335 (D.C. Cir. 2006)); accord Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). The non-movant must "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" LaFavors v. Shinseki, Civil Action No. 10-1755 (RLW), 2012 WL 640878, at *1 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2012) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

In considering a summary judgment motion, a court accepts as true the non-movant's evidence and draws "justifiable inferences . . . in [her] favor." Estate of Parsons v. Palestinian Auth., 651 F.3d 118, 123 (D.C. Cir. 2011). "[I]f the evidence presented on a dispositive issue is subject to conflicting interpretations, or reasonable persons might differ as to its significance, summary judgment is improper." Etheridge, 789 F. Supp. 2d at 32 (quotation marks and citation omitted). "[I]f undisputed facts point unerringly to a single, inevitable conclusion, [however,] summary judgment [is] warranted." Keefe Co. v. Americable Int'l, Inc., 169 F.3d 34, 38 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

"When ruling on summary judgment, courts need only consider admissible evidence." U.S. Info. Sys., Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local Union Number 3, No. 00 Civ. 4763, 2006 WL 2136249, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2006) (citing Raskin v. Wyatt Co., 125 F.3d 55, 66 (2d Cir. 1997) ("The principles governing admissibility of evidence do not change on a motion for summary judgment.")). "[C]courts are free to strike or disregard inadmissible statements in parties' summary judgment submissions." Id. (citing 11 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Fed. Practice § 56.14[4][a] (affidavits, deposition testimony, and documents containing inadmissible evidence properly disregarded)).

However, "[i]n 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 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 [or] by evidence of agency bad faith.'" Thornton-Bey v. Exec. Office for U.S. Attorneys, Civil Action No. 11-773 (JEB), 2012 WL 593546, at *2 (D.D.C. Feb. 24, 2012) (quoting 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[.]"'" Id. (quoting SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991)) (additional citation omitted).

I. ADMISSIBILITY OF CHALLENGED EVIDENCE

Augustus challenges as unauthenticated the ...


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