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Frederick Banks v. Department of Justice

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


July 26, 2012

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

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff brought this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the sole remaining issue pertains to the withholding of certain information by the United States Postal Inspection Service ("USPIS"). This matter is before the Court on Defendant USPIS' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff submitted seven separate FOIA requests to the USPIS between 2005 and 2009, three of which are relevant to this action. See Banks v. Dep't of Justice, 813 F. Supp. 2d 132, 135 (D.D.C. 2011). The Court has granted summary judgment in the USPIS' favor with respect to his March 2006 request (FOIA No. 2006-FPIS-00167).*fn2 Banks v. Dep't of Justice, 538 F. Supp. 2d 228, 234-35 (D.D.C. 2008). In addition, the Court has granted in part and denied in part the USPIS' Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #75] with respect to plaintiff's December 28, 2004 and July 11, 2005 requests (FOIA Nos. 2005-FPIS-00020 and 2005-FPIS-00180, respectively). See Banks, 813 F. Supp. 2d at 146.

Among the records responsive to these requests were three documents from which the USPIS redacted information under Exemptions 7(D) and 7(E): the Application and Affidavit for Search Warrant (Doc. No. 5), the Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint (Doc. No. 13), and the Case Summary (Doc. No. 15). Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Def. USPIS' Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #94] ("USPIS Mem."), Decl. of Betty L. White ("White Decl.") ¶¶ 4-5; see Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and for Summ. J. [Dkt. #87], Second Supplemental Decl. of Mildred R. Baxter, Ex. A (Supplemental Index of Redacted/Withheld Documents with FOIA Exemptions ("Supp. Vaughn Index") (Doc. Nos. 5, 13 and 15). Upon further review, the USPIS has determined that "the information previously withheld pursuant to Exemptions 7(D) and 7(E) is releasable and USPIS no longer asserts" these exemptions. USPIS Mem., White Decl. ¶ 6. On December 8, 2011, the USPIS unredacted versions of these documents to plaintiff. Id., White Decl. ¶ 6.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

"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). The Court grants summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In an action under FOIA to compel production of agency records, the agency "is entitled to summary judgment if no material facts are in dispute and if it demonstrates 'that each document that falls within the class requested either has been produced . . . or is wholly exempt from [FOIA's] inspection requirements.'" Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F. 3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (quoting Goland v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978)).

Summary judgment may be based solely on information provided in an agency's supporting 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[s], and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record [or] by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see Beltranena v. Clinton, 770 F. Supp. 2d 175, 182 (D.D.C. 2011). "To successfully challenge an agency's showing that it complied with the FOIA, the plaintiff must come forward with 'specific facts' demonstrating that there is a genuine issue with respect to whether the agency has improperly withheld extant agency records." Span v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 696 F. Supp. 2d 113, 119 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Dep't of Justice v. Tax Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 142 (1989)).

B. The USPIS Has Met Its Obligations Under The FOIA

Having determined that the USPIS properly withheld certain information from the three documents at issue under Exemptions 6 and 7(C), see Banks, 813 F. Supp. 2d at 141-44, the only information withheld from these same documents has been "withheld solely based on the assertion of Exemption 7(D) and Exemption 7(E)." USPIS Mem., White Decl. ¶ 6 (emphasis in original). Now that the USPIS has withdrawn its reliance on these exemptions and has released unredacted versions of these documents, id., White Decl. ¶ 6, the USPIS moves for summary judgment, arguing that no genuine issue of material fact exists as to its compliance with the FOIA and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See generally USPIS Mem. at 2-3.

Plaintiff opposes the USPIS' motion, see Pl.'s Reply to Def. U.S. Postal Inspection Serv.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #96] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), arguing that the USPIS "has failed to explain why the information had not otherwise un-redacted in part where the exemptions were not solely based on 7(D) and 7(E)." Pl.'s Opp'n at 1.*fn3 No other exemptions apply, however, and the USPIS is not obligated to explain why it did not release unredacted versions of the documents previously. It is apparent that the USPIS believed the information could be withheld under Exemptions 7(D) and 7(E), and revised its position as this litigation progressed.

The Court's authority under the FOIA is limited, and "federal jurisdiction is dependent upon a showing that an agency has (1) 'improperly'; (2) 'withheld'; (3) 'agency records.'" Kissinger v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150 (1980) (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)). The USPIS no longer relies on Exemptions 7(D) and 7(E), and the defendants have established that the records responsive to all of plaintiff's FOIA requests either have been produced or have been withheld properly under the claimed exemptions. Based on review of all the defendants' supporting declarations and Vaughn Indices, the Court concludes that all reasonably segregable information has been released.

III. CONCLUSION

The Court concludes that the USPIS has complied fully with its obligations under the FOIA. Accordingly, its renewed motion for summary judgment will be granted. There remain no further issue for the Court's resolution, and a final order is issued separately.


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