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Sciacca v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 6, 2014

ANTHONY SCIACCA, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ANTHONY SCIACCA, Plaintiff, Pro se, LEXINGTON, KY.

For FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, OFFICE OF INFORMATION & PRIVACY, Defendants: Peter Rolf Maier, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: Peter Rolf Maier, Wynne Patrick Kelly, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ) began to investigate Plaintiff Anthony Sciacca (" Sciacca" ) in the late 1990s as part of a wider investigation into an organized crime group. (Second Declaration of David M. Hardy (" Hardy Decl." ), ECF No. 12-1, ¶ 5.) On May 7, 2001, Sciacca pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York to a charge of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), and on November 8, 2001, a judge of that court sentenced Sciacca to 23 years in federal prison, where he remains to this day.

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( Id. ¶ ¶ 5-6.) Sciacca has brought this action against the FBI, the Department of Justice (" DOJ" ), and DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy (" OIP" ) (collectively, " Defendants" ) alleging that Defendants have mishandled a document request that Sciacca submitted in 2006, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, (" FOIA" ). ( See generally Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on May 4, 2009, which the Court referred to Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola.

On February 16, 2012, Magistrate Judge Facciola issued a Report and Recommendation finding that the Court should deny Defendants' summary judgment motion. As discussed further below, because Defendants have failed to provide this Court with sufficient information to evaluate the propriety of the various FOIA exemptions that Defendants have invoked to withhold and redact presumably responsive documents, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation as a part of its opinion and DENY Defendants' summary judgment motion without prejudice. As the Order accompanying this Memorandum Opinion states, Defendants will now have the opportunity to submit supplemental declarations and/or a Vaughn index that provides the necessary information.

I. BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 19, 2006, Sciacca submitted a FOIA request to the FBI's New York Field Office seeking documents related to his criminal case. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 7.) Specifically, Sciacca requested: " all records in possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on myself or which makes reference to myself." ( See Hardy Decl., Exhibit A, ECF No. 12-2, at 2.)

On November 15, 2007, the FBI informed Sciacca that they had been unable to locate any documents responsive to his request, claiming that Sciacca's case documents were not in their expected storage location and could not be found elsewhere after a reasonable period of time. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 11.) The FBI further notified Sciacca that he had a right to appeal this " unable to locate" result to the OIP. ( Id.) Sciacca availed himself of this appeal on December 3, 2007. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

On March 3, 2008, the OIP advised Sciacca that relevant records had been found after a second search, but that the FBI would nonetheless withhold all of the records pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A), which exempts from the reach of FOIA " records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" to the extent the production of such records " could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." ( Id. ¶ 14.) Then, on November 16, 2008, Sciacca filed suit in this Court. ( See Compl.) Sciacca styled his complaint as alleging violations of his due process and equal protection rights; however, the substance of his complaint is simply an allegation that the FBI violated the FOIA statute in its handling of Sciacca's request. ( See id. at 5-6.) As relief, Sciacca seeks an order directing the FBI to release the requested documents. ( Id. at 7.)

On March 4, 2009, approximately three and a half months after Sciacca filed his complaint, the FBI produced 281 pages of the records Sciacca had requested, in full or in part, out of 365 pages it claimed to have reviewed at that point, withholding the remaining 84 pages in full. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 16.) The FBI asserted various FOIA exemptions to justify its redactions of the produced documents and its withholding the remainder of the documents, including Exemption 2, which pertains to matters that are " related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of

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an agency," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2); Exemption 3, which relates to matters that are " specifically exempted from disclosure by statute," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3); Exemption 6, which protects " personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6), and Exemption 7, which applies to " records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes," 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). ( Id. )[1] On April 30, 2009, the FBI produced to Sciacca another 141 pages, in full or in part, out of an additional 279 pages it had reviewed, withholding the remaining 138 pages in full, and invoking the same FOIA exemptions as before to justify its redactions and withholding. ( Id. at ¶ 17).

A. Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment And Accompanying Declaration

On May 4, 2009, Defendants moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims, asserting that the productions they had made satisfied any FOIA obligations, and thus no genuine questions of material fact remained in the case. (See Mem. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. For Summ. J. (" Defs.' Br." ), ECF No. 12, at 1.) In support of the motion, Defendants submitted a lengthy declaration from David M. Hardy, the Section Chief of the Record/Information Dissemination Section, Records Management Division of the FBI. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 1.)

The Hardy Declaration begins with a summary of the procedural history of Sciacca's FOIA request, then explains the organization of the FBI's central records system and details the steps taken to search for and review records responsive the Sciacca's request. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 7-33.) The Declaration notes that two separate tranches of records were produced to Hardy--the first comprised of 281 of 365 responsive pages produced in full or in part; the second comprised of 141 of 279 responsive pages produced in full or in part. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 16-17.)[2]

Next, the Hardy Declaration goes on to explain the coding system used to redact portions of the pages produced to Sciacca. It notes that each produced page " on its face contains coded categories of exemptions which detail the nature of the information withheld," and that these " coded categories" appear next to the specific information that has been withheld (that is, redacted). ( Id. ¶ 39.) Moreover, in addition to identifying the type of information redacted, the coded categories displayed on each page also identify which specific FOIA exemption the information implicates. ( Id. ) In other words, each " coded category" appearing next to a specific redaction conveys two pieces of information to the reader: 1) the type of information redacted; and 2) the specific FOIA exemption (or exemptions) that justify redacting

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that type of information. As an example, the Declaration states that

on Bates Page SCIACCA-2 " Exemption (b)(7)(C)-1" is cited to protect the names and/or identifying information concerning FBI Special Agents and Support Employees. The '(b)(7)(C)' designation refers to Exemption (b)(7)(C) of the FOIA concerning Unwarranted Invasion of Personal Privacy. The numerical designation '1' following the (b)(7)(C) narrows the category of protected information from the main ...

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