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Darrell James Debrew v. Michael Atwood

August 31, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #50].*fn1 Based on the Court's review of the motion, plaintiff's opposition and defendants' reply, the motion will be granted.


The sole issue remaining for resolution in this case pertains to plaintiff's request to the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, for "documentation concerning making Conducting a Business (408) a prohibited act." *fn2

Compl. at 6. This Court previously observed that BOP did not "offer[]a description of either the agency's interpretation of the request or the method by which staff conducted the search," and hence the Court could not conclude "that the BOP's search was reasonable under the circumstances." DeBrew v. Atwood, 847 F. Supp. 2d 95, 102 (D.D.C. 2012). BOP has renewed its motion for summary judgment arguing that "there can be no genuine dispute that [it] reasonably interpreted [p]laintiff's FOIA request, conducted an adequate search of its records based on that reasonable inperpretation, and provided responsive records to the [p]laintiff." Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Defs.' Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #50] ("Defs.' Renewed Mem.") at 1.


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). In a FOIA action 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 the [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, 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 satisfy its burden on summary judgment to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists, the agency must show that it "has conducted a search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents." Elliot v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 596 F.3d 842, 851 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983)); Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999) ("An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C. Cir. 1990))). The agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail the scope and method of its search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance with FOIA. Id. at 127. On the other hand, if the record "leaves substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of the search, summary judgment for the agency is not proper." Truitt, 897 F.2d at 542; see also Valencia-Lucena, 180 F.3d at 326.

B. BOP's Interpretation of Plaintiff's FOIA Request

"On June 5, 2006[,] Plaintiff was found guilty of violating BOP's Code 408 (Conducting a Business) and [was] ordered to remove his Web-Page from the World Wide Web and not to use the mail in regards to his books and manuscripts." Compl. at 9. "Again on April 21, 2009[,] Plaintiff was found guilty [of the same offense because he received] a Royalty Check . . . for a book entitled Keisha." Id. In the interim, on September 5, 2007, plaintiff submitted a one-sentence FOIA request to the BOP for "[a]ll documentation for making Conducting a Business (408) a prohibited act." Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. [Dkt. #31] ("Defs.' Mem."), Ex. B (First Moorer Decl. dated October 15, 2010), Ex. 5 (Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request dated September 5, 2007); see Compl. at 6. BOP interpreted the request as one seeking a copy of Program Statement 5270.07, Inmate Discipline and Special Housing Units:

The interpretation of the request was based on the plain language of the request seeking documentation that makes conducting a business a prohibited act. For any inmate action to be made into a prohibited act, . . . BOP must put the inmate on notice. That notice was done through Program Statement 5270.08. So, that Program Statement is what made conducting a business a prohibited act and was thus considered responsive to [p]laintiff's FOIA request.

Defs.' Renewed Mem., Ex. A (Second Moorer Decl. dated June 8, 2012) ¶ 3.*fn3 BOP released a copy of Program Statement 5270.07 to plaintiff on or about October 25, 2007. See Compl. at 6; Defs.' Mem., First Moorer Decl., Ex. 6 (Letter to plaintiff from Wanda M. Hunt, Chief, FOIA/PA Section, BOP) at 1.

BOP's declarant explained "that one might reasonably conclude that the [p]laintiff only wanted a copy of the Program Statement." Defs.' Renewed Mem., Second Moorer Decl. ΒΆ 6. By the declarant's own admission, however, ...

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