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Braga v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 21, 2012

Stephen L. BRAGA, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendant.

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Stephen Louis Braga, Law Office of Stephen L. Braga, Woodbridge, VA, for Plaintiff.

Alan R. Burch, Rhonda Lisa Campbell, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

In May 1993, three boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three men, subsequently knows as the " West Memphis Three," were ultimately convicted of the murders and sentenced to death or life in prison. Yet, after lengthy post-conviction proceedings, all were released from prison in 2011. The only one of the three initially sentenced to death was Damien Echols, who was represented in the collateral proceedings bye Stephen L. Braga. Braga has brought this suit under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation related to the case. He contends that the 484 pages that were released, either in full or in part, are insufficient. Disagreeing, the FBI now moves for summary judgment. Because the Bureau's document search was adequate and because

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its withholdings were proper under FOIA Exemption 7(C), the Court will grant the Motion and enter judgment for Defendant.

I. Background

Since March 2011, Plaintiff has submitted four FOIA requests to the FBI. See Compl., ¶¶ 12-30. Under the first and broadest, sent on March 17, Plaintiff sought

copies of all records relating to the FBI's involvement with West Memphis, Arkansas in an investigation into the murders of three young boys named Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers on May 5, 1993.... [T]he FBI's Universal File Case Number for this matter was 252B-LR-34807.... The requested records include any FBI interactions with any other law enforcement or forensic agencies such as the Arkansas State Police and the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory concerning this investigation.

Id., ¶ 13. At the beginning of the first request, Plaintiff also advised Defendant that " the requested information is pertinent to certain issues to be addressed by the Arkansas Circuit Court at an evidentiary hearing later this year on Mr. Echols' motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence." Id. (brackets omitted). On March 24, the FBI responded to this request by (1) releasing 190 pages of information it had previously released to a prior FOIA requester; and (2) advising Plaintiff to resubmit his request should he want the documents to be reprocessed under the new Attorney General guidelines. See id., ¶ 14.

On April 4, Plaintiff sent a second FOIA request to the FBI, this time seeking " [a]ll records relating to communications to the FBI, or from the FBI, between January 1, 2000 and April 4, 2011 relating to FBI File Number 252B-LR-34807." Id., ¶ 19. In June, the FBI in response released 26 pages and withheld 25 pages under FOIA Exemptions 6, 7(C), and/or 7(D). See id., ¶ 20.

On May 11, Plaintiff submitted a third request, looking for " [a]ll records relating to the FBI's testing and/or analysis of soil, fiber, hair, blood, tissue, semen, clothing, polygraph examinations or other evidence in connection with ... the Misskelley, Echols or Baldwin cases." Id., ¶ 23. Defendant responded that the 190 pages of information released on March 24 satisfied this request. Id., ¶ 24.

On June 24, Plaintiff sent his fourth and final request to Defendant. In this one, he asked the FBI to reprocess Plaintiff's first request under the new Attorney General guidelines, following Defendant's advice on March 24. See id., ¶ 27. In November, Defendant released to Plaintiff 458 pages of information and ...


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