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Sennett v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 30, 2014


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For Laura Sennett, Plaintiff: Jeffrey Louis Light, LAW OFFICE OF JEFFREY LIGHT, Washington , DC.

For Department of Justice, Defendant: Kenneth A. Adebonojo, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington , DC.

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JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Laura Sennett is a photojournalist with a special interest in covering protests, political demonstrations, and " grassroots activism." In 2010, Sennett submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeking records containing information about her. After a search and review of documents, the Bureau produced more than 1,600 pages of responsive records but withheld and redacted a number of documents pursuant to specific provisions of FOIA and the Privacy Act. Dissatisfied, Plaintiff brought this suit against the Department of Justice, challenging the sufficiency of the FBI's search, as well as the propriety of many of its withholdings. DOJ responded, in an initial Motion for Summary Judgment, that it had complied with its obligations, and the Court agreed -- for the most part. It did, however, conclude that the Government's affidavit had not adequately justified its decision to invoke FOIA Exemption 7(D), which concerns confidential sources, with respect to information on four pages. See Sennett v. Dep't of Justice (Sennett I), 962 F.Supp.2d 270 (D.D.C. 2013). Defendant has now returned, new-and-improved declaration in hand, again asking for summary judgment. Although that updated statement is somewhat helpful, it is far from enough. As a result, the Court will order that the Government release all of the contested information that it withheld solely under Exemption 7(D).

I. Background

The prior Opinion in this case describes the facts in some detail, so this time around the Court will highlight only those events pertinent to the remaining legal dispute. To wit: Before dawn on April 12, 2008, a group of people gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown to protest the International Monetary Fund's annual meeting. See Compl., ¶ ¶ 7-8. Plaintiff attended the demonstration with the purpose of photographing the event. See id., ¶ 8. When the gathering devolved into an excuse for petty vandalism, the authorities sought and received a warrant to search Sennett's home, which they did on September 23 of the same year. See Sennett v. United States, 667 F.3d 531, 532-36 (4th Cir. 2012). The search produced " more than 7,000 pictures, two computers, several cameras and other camera equipment." Compl., ¶ 9.

Interested in what else the FBI had on her, Sennett submitted a request to the FBI seeking " copies of all files, correspondence, and other records concerning herself." Second Def. MSJ, Exh. A (Declaration of David M. Hardy) (" Third Hardy Declaration" ), ¶ 5. Over the course of the next two years, the FBI released over 1,000 pages of responsive records and withheld some 600 under the Privacy Act and various FOIA exemptions. Sennett, meanwhile, exhausted the available administrative remedies and then filed this lawsuit. See Sennett I, 962 F.Supp.2d at 275-76. The Court granted Defendant's first Motion for Summary Judgment on nearly all counts but concluded that it could not " sanction the withholdings under [FOIA] Exemption 7(D) as the record . . . st[ood]" because the Government had not adequately justified its decision to withhold parts of four records -- Sennett-5, 9-10, and 1688 -- under that provision. Id. at 286.

In an attempt to alleviate the Court's concerns, Defendant has filed a beefed-up declaration accompanying a renewed Motion

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for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff argues in her Opposition and her own Cross-Motion that the new declaration is not enough. Having now also reviewed the four disputed pages that the Court ordered the Government to produce in camera, the Court agrees. It will thus deny Defendant's Motion and grant Plaintiff's instead.

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 evidence in ...

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