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Love v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 16, 2013

ABDUL LOVE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), seeking records maintained by the United States Secret Service ("Secret Service" or "Agency"), a component of the DHS. This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 17]. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was arrested on October 5, 2005, in Waukegan, Illinois, and was charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine. (Compl. ¶ 6.)[1] According to the Waukegan police, officers had observed Plaintiff's vehicle speeding, and after stopping Plaintiff's car, the officers spotted what was later determined to be approximately two and a half kilograms of cocaine in plain view. (Compl., Ex. B, "Motion to Reconsider Ruling on Def.'s Mot. For Supp. Discovery" at 3; Ex. H, "Pl.'s Letter to the Honorable Fred Foreman dated July 4, 2008" at 1-2.)

During the pretrial process, Plaintiff vigorously disputed the officers' account. (Compl., Ex. H, at 1.) He maintained that he had not committed any traffic violations; rather, the police had specifically targeted him for a warrantless vehicle search based on information that one of Plaintiff's acquaintances, Silas Peppel, most likely had given to them prior to the traffic stop. ( Id.; Compl., Ex. A, "Motion for Supp. Discovery, " at 1.) Through discovery and by subpoena, Plaintiff sought to prove that Peppel was a police informant who had not only alerted officers to the presence of drugs in Plaintiff's vehicle, but had set Plaintiff up to commit the drug offense in order to mitigate Peppel's own punishment for a counterfeiting ring in which both Peppel and Plaintiff had previously been implicated. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 12; see also Compl., Ex. D, "Carbondale Police Department Investigations Supplement" at 4 (page number designated by the Court); Ex. H, at 1-2.)[2] Ultimately, Plaintiff's pretrial requests and arguments were unavailing; he was convicted of the drug offense on July 15, 2009. (Compl. ¶ 11). But presumably to prove his theory right, Plaintiff continued his quest to obtain law enforcement records regarding the circumstances surrounding his narcotics arrest. ( See Compl., Ex. H, at 2 ("I know that [Peppel] was in contact with the police or some other law enforcement agency. I know that if I was given the opportunity to cross-reference his old cell phone number... against the records of the other officers[, ] I am positive I can prove my point.")

A. Plaintiff's Records Requests

On November 23, 2009, Plaintiff obtained a report dated May 13, 2005, from the

Carbondale, Illinois Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 12; see also id., Ex. D.)[3] The report detailed a Carbondale police investigation of a local counterfeiting operation, designated case # XXXXXXXXXXX, in which Peppel and Plaintiff were both identified. (Compl. Ex. D., at 3.) The report states that investigators interviewed Peppel and that, during the interview, Peppel indicated "that he wanted to talk to the Secret Service." ( Id. ) The investigating Carbondale police officer concluded the report by stating: "I contacted Paul Foster, United States Secret Service Agent. Foster told me that he would take over the case and investigate it. I provided Agent Foster with a copy of the materials of my investigation. " ( Id. at 4 (emphasis added).)

On May 18, 2010, Plaintiff submitted to the Secret Service the FOIA request that is at issue in the instant case. (Compl., Ex. E, "Freedom of Information Act Request"; see also Def.'s Mem of P. & A. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem"), "Decl. of Alvin T. Smith" ("Smith Decl.") ¶ 5.)[4] The introduction to Plaintiff's FOIA request read:

Petitioner, upon information and belief that agent, Paul Foster, of the United States Secret Service; Sgt[.] Chastain, Sgt. Cappelluti, Dets. Sopia, Ulloa, Flores, Reed, Agallianos and Novarro, of the Waukegan Police Dept.; Michael J. Waller, State[']s Attorney for Lake County, Illinois; Judge Fred Foreman, of the nineteenth judicial district of Lake County, Illinois; Silas Peppel, and other, yet to be disclosed, governmental actors, Jane and John Doe's have manifestly engaged in a "scheme or artifice" to imprison petitioner and silence objections to criminal misconduct and constitutional violations thereby, among other wrongdoing, obstructing justice and the administration of justice[.]

(Compl., Ex. E, at 3 (page number designated by the Court).) The request generally asked for "all information or arrest that resulted from information obtained as a result of the Carbondale, Illinois police report." (Compl. ¶ 13; see generally id., Ex. E.) It also sought specific items, including any documents that the Secret Service maintained "relating to [Plaintiff] and his alleged involvement in counterfeiting U.S. currency discovered out of independent investigations and/or as a result of case #XXXXXXXXXXX originating out of Carbondale, Illinois..., " as well as information "about Silas Peppel[']s involvement in [Plaintiff's] criminal case/conviction in Lake County[, ] Illinois because of or in relation to case #XXXXXXXXXXX originating out of Carbondale, Illinois." ( Id., Ex. E, at 5.)

B. The Secret Service's Search for Responsive Records

The Secret Service received Plaintiff's FOIA request via facsimile on August 25, 2010. (Def.'s Mem. at 4; Smith Decl. ¶ 4.) According to Deputy Director Alvin T. Smith ("Declarant"), the Secret Service assigned Plaintiff's FOIA request to the Criminal Investigation Division ("CID"), which "is the division... that plans, reviews, and coordinates domestic and international criminal investigations, such as those involving counterfeiting of [U.S. currency]." ( Id. ¶ 13.) The CID searched the Secret Service Common Index ("CI") with respect to Plaintiff's request, and in so doing, "perform[ed] computerized searches of information collected in [five] Agency databases: [1]the Master Central Index (MCI'), [2]the Protective Research Information System Management (PRISM'), [3] the Master Personnel System (MPS'), [4] the White House Pass Holders and Tradesman (WV') database, and [5] the Event Name Check (EVNAME') system." ( Id. ¶ 14.) Declarant explains that MCI "is an online computer system used by Secret Service field offices, protective divisions, and headquarters offices [and] is the central record keeping system for information in the investigative and administrative files maintained by the Secret Service." ( Id. ¶ 15.) "Information concerning individuals about whom the Secret Service maintains records is indexed in the MCI by name, social security number, and/or date of birth." ( Id. ) PRISM "is the Agency's database for protective intelligence data." ( Id. ¶ 16.) MPS "contains organizational and personnel data." ( Id. ) WV "contains information related to individuals with or seeking access to the White House Complex." ( Id. ) Lastly, EVNAM "permits the Agency to determine if it has queried other internal and external databases such as the MCI, PRISM, the National Crime Information Center, and the Interstate Identification Index for a specific individual in the last thirty (30) days." ( Id. )[5]

In regard to Plaintiff's FOIA request, Secret Service staff first searched the CI using Plaintiff's name as a search term ( id. ¶ 14) because "[i]nformation provided by Plaintiff indicated that he believed that the Secret Service had responsive records because he had been implicated in an alleged counterfeiting scheme that was referred to the Secret Service for further investigation by a local law enforcement agency in 2005" ( id. ¶ 11). That search "failed ...


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