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Acosta v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 23, 2013

SAMUEL ACOSTA, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, et al., Defendants

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SAMUEL ACOSTA, Plaintiff, Pro se, SEAGOVILLE, TX.

For FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR U.S. ATTORNEYS, Defendants: Mary Elizabeth Stratton, LEAD ATTORNEY, Leila Jade Levi, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: Mary Elizabeth Stratton, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

For DES MOINES IOWA POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant: Leila Jade Levi, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

This case concerns the efforts of pro se Plaintiff Samuel Acosta, a federal prisoner, to obtain documents about himself from assorted government agencies through the Freedom of Information Act. On April 17, 2013, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion dismissing a number of Government Defendants for Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See Acosta v. FBI (Acosta I), No. 12-1578, 946 F.Supp.2d 47, 2013 WL 1633068 (D.D.C. Apr. 17, 2013). The remaining Defendants -- the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys -- now move for summary judgment, arguing that their search for responsive documents was adequate and that they properly withheld certain documents under appropriate FOIA exemptions. As the Court agrees, it will grant their Motion.

I. Background

Beginning in 2010, Plaintiff sent various FOIA requests to government agencies under 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq., seeking all records concerning his criminal prosecution. See [WL] at *1. In Acosta I, and in a subsequent Minute Order of May 17, 2013, the Court dismissed all Defendants except EUOSA and the FBI. Those agencies have now released 805 pages in full to Plaintiff. See Mot., Attach. 4 (Declaration of David Luczynski), ¶ 10 & Exh. G (FOIA Letter). Having done so, they have now renewed their Motion for Summary Judgment. The remaining dispute involves six EOUSA documents totaling 127 pages and 30 pages of FBI documents, all of which have been withheld either in part or in full. See Luczynski Decl., Exh. H (EOUSA Vaughn Index); Mot., Attach. 3 (Declaration of David Hardy), Exh. G (FBI Redacted or Withheld Pages). Because some of the explanations for Defendants' withholdings were quite generic, the Court ordered them to provide copies of EOUSA documents 3 and 5 and the FBI's pages labeled Acosta 21, 22, 24, 25, and 30 for in camera inspection. See Minute Orders of Sept. 10-11, 2013. The Government provided these documents on September 16th, and the Court has now reviewed all of them, along with the redacted copies provided to Plaintiff.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted if " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact is one that would change the outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (" Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." ). In the event of conflicting evidence on a material issue, the Court is to construe the conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Sample v. Bureau of Prisons, 466 F.3d 1086, 1087, 373 U.S.App. D.C. 308 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits, declarations, or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456, 295 U.S.App. D.C. 350 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary

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judgment. See Defenders of Wildlife v. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009); Bigwood v. U.S. Agency for Int'l Dev., 484 F.Supp.2d 68, 73 (D.D.C. 2007). In FOIA cases, the agency bears the ultimate burden of proof. See U.S. Dep't of Justice v. Tax Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 142, n.3, 109 S.Ct. 2841, 106 L.Ed.2d 112 (1989). The Court may grant summary judgment based solely on information provided in an agency's affidavits or declarations 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 nor by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738, 211 U.S.App. D.C. 135 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Such affidavits or declarations are accorded " a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by 'purely speculative claims about the existence and ...


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