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Rodriguez v. U.S. Department of Army

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 27, 2014

EDGAR RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ARMY, [1] Defendant

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For EDGAR RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff: Gary M. Sidell, LAW OFFICES OF GARY M. SIDELL, Washington, DC.

For DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, JOHN M. MCHUGH, Defendants: John J. Gowel, LEAD ATTORNEY, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR THE DISTRICT OF COL, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

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Document No.: 15, 17

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises under the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552, as amended, and pertains to the FOIA request of plaintiff, Edgar Rodriguez, for records maintained by the defendant, United States Department of the Army (" Army" ). Specifically, the plaintiff requests records relating to the defendant's criminal investigation that resulted in the plaintiff's conviction, confinement, and dishonorable discharge for the rape and forcible sodomy of a nine-year-old girl between 1988 and 1990. The plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Army's responses to the FOIA request. For the reasons set forth below, the Army's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

On April 29, 2011, the plaintiff requested that the defendant make available, pursuant to the FOIA, documents concerning the 1990 investigation of the plaintiff conducted by the Department of the Army

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Criminal Investigative Division (" CID" ). See Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1. The letter requested all related exhibits including interviews, notes, and video and/or audio tapes of interviews. See id. at ¶ 3. On behalf of the defendant, Susan Cuglar, Director of Crime Records Center, CID, granted the plaintiff's request in part and denied in part. See id. Of the thirty-six pages of documents identified, the defendant provided pages 000001-000023 and 000035-000036 with redactions, see Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1, withholding the names, addresses and identification numbers of CID special agents, third party victims, and interviewees. See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3, ECF No. 15. The defendant withheld in its entirety pages 000025-000030, which " consisted of a hand-written statement of the victim in the investigation describing being sexually assaulted by Mr. Rodriguez, a typed sworn statement of the victim describing her being sexually assaulted by Mr. Rodriguez, and two drawings produced by the victim detailing Mr. Rodriguez sexually assaulting her." Id.

Pages 000024 (also known as exhibit 3) and 000031-000034 were referred to the U.S. Army Medical Command (" Army MEDCOM" ), another component of the Department of the Army. See Compl. ¶ 3, ECF, No. 1. Army MEDCOM, acting on behalf of the defendant, responded that they withheld the responsive documents in their entirety because they contain personal medical information. See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4, ECF No. 15. Additionally, although the provided documents identified exhibits one through twelve, the defendant only produced exhibits 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. See Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 1. According to the defendant, searches could not locate exhibits nine through twelve as they were likely destroyed at some time prior to Mr. Rodriguez's FOIA request. See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4, ECF No. 15.

The defendant, in support of the partial FOIA request denial, alleged that it withheld certain materials on the basis of personal privacy pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552, Exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C), and on the basis of information compiled for law enforcement purposes which could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual under Exemption (b)(7)(F) of the FOIA. See id. On August 5, 2011, the plaintiff, arguing that the defendant incorrectly withheld several of the materials, appealed the partial denial. See Compl. ¶ 3, ECF, No. 1. The defendant did not respond to this appeal within the requisite twenty-day period, id. at ¶ 4; therefore, the plaintiff sufficiently exhausted his administrative remedies necessary prior to judicial review. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C) (explaining that if the agency " fails to comply with the applicable time limit provisions" that the requester " shall be deemed to have exhausted his administrative remedies" ).

On November 28, 2013, the plaintiff filed a Complaint for Injunctive Relief against the defendant alleging violations of the FOIA. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Specifically, the plaintiff brings three causes of action: (1) that the defendant's refusal to disclose exhibits nine through twelve and pages 000003 and 000009, without claiming a FOIA exemption, violates the FOIA; (2) that the defendant's reliance on 5 U.S.C. § 552, Exemptions (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C) for the redactions and the refusal to disclose pages 000006, 000025-000030 and exhibit 3 is without merit; and (3) that the defendant's refusal to disclose portions of pages 000002, 000005, and 000011 on the basis of FOIA Exemption (b)(7)(F) is without merit.[2] See id. at

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¶ ¶ 4-5. In sum, the plaintiff argues that " the defendant withheld information to which the plaintiff is entitled and failed to conduct an adequate search for the missing crucial documents." Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Cross-Mot. Summ. J. 8, ECF No. 18.

The defendant has moved for summary judgment, asserting it conducted a reasonable search for responsive records and that responses to plaintiff's FOIA request were proper, explaining that those items redacted or withheld are exempt from release pursuant to certain FOIA exemptions. See Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4, ECF No. 15. The plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment challenging the adequacy of the defendant's search and its refusal to disclose certain information and documents. See generally Pl.'s Cross-Mot., ECF No. 17.

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Summary Judgment

FOIA cases are typically and appropriately decided on motions for summary judgment. See, e.g., Miscavige v. IRS, 2 F.3d 366, 368-69 (11th Cir. 1993) (" Generally, FOIA cases should be handled on motions for summary judgment, once the documents in issue are properly identified." ); Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009); Rushford v. Civiletti, 485 F.Supp. 477, 481 n. 13 (D.D.C. 1980). A motion for summary judgment should be granted only " 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 material fact is one that " might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The movant must support its factual positions by " citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations . . . , admissions interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits its 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).

In a FOIA case, an agency is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate that there are no material facts in dispute as to the adequacy of its search for or production of responsive records. Nat'l Whistleblower Ctr. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 849 F.Supp.2d 13, 21 (D.D.C. 2012). An agency must show that any responsive information it has withheld was either exempt from disclosure under one of the exemptions enumerated in 5 U.S.C. § 522(b), or else cannot be reasonably segregated because it is " inextricably intertwined with" exempt information. Mead Data Cent., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 260, 184 U.S.App.D.C. 350 (D.C. Cir. 1977). " Because FOIA challenges necessarily involve situations in which one party bears the burden of ...


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