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Ocasio v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 16, 2014

JUAN CARLOS OCASIO, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant

JUAN CARLOS OCASIO, Plaintiff, Pro se, Bronx, NY.

For DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: John Cuong Truong, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

Page 439

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Juan Carlos Ocasio's motion (ECF No. 20) for an order granting limited discovery by way of issuance of judicial subpoenas, or in the alternative for in camera review of the requested material.[1] Ocasio seeks documents

Page 440

from two government agencies in connection with an underlying Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ) action.

In the suit before this Court, Ocasio challenges DOJ's treatment of a FOIA request he submitted on June 11, 2012 regarding an Office of Inspector General (" OIG" ) investigation file concerning a complaint he filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ) against a third party. (ECF No. 1 at 2)[2] Ocasio alleged in his FBI complaint that the third party[3] illegally impersonated a federal officer and violated the Stolen Valor Act[4] by falsely claiming the receipt of military honors. ( Id.; ECF No. 20 at 6-8)

Ocasio's FOIA request is not, however, the subject of the present motion. Instead, Ocasio presently seeks non-party discovery apparently to buttress his claims regarding C.G.'s alleged violations of the Stolen Valor Act. Specifically, Ocasio moves the Court to issue subpoenas to the " National Personnel Records Center for Military Records" and the California Department of Motor Vehicles for files relating to C.G.[5]

As Ocasio admits, " [d]iscovery is generally disfavored in FOIA cases." Beltranena v. U.S. Dep't of State, 821 F.Supp.2d 167, 176 (D.D.C. 2011); Justice v. IRS, 798 F.Supp.2d 43, 47 (D.D.C. 2011), aff'd, 485 F.App'x 439 (D.C. Cir. 2012). " Courts permit discovery in FOIA cases where a 'plaintiff has made a sufficient showing that the agency acted in bad faith.'" Justice v. I.R.S., 798 F.Supp.2d at 47 (citations omitted). " When allowed, the scope of discovery is usually limited to the adequacy of the agency's search and similar matters." Voinche v. F.B.I., 412 F.Supp.2d 60, 71 (D.D.C. 2006).

Ocasio does not allege bad faith on the part of DOJ,[6] nor does Ocasio seek documents related to DOJ's search. Instead, Ocasio argues that discovery is warranted because it would " conclusively prove the Stolen Valor Act violation in this case" and would support the public policy of uncovering individuals who have falsified military records. (ECF No. 20 at 8) Even if this assertion were true, this is not the appropriate forum in which to seek documents from non-parties regarding violations of the Stolen Valor Act. This case

Page 441

relates only to Ocasio's FOIA request to DOJ and DOJ's response. Ocasio cannot use this FOIA action to seek documents from non-parties regarding alleged violations of other laws by unrelated third parties. Am. Lumber Corp. v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 886 F.2d 50, 55 (D.C. Cir. 1989) ( " the Supreme Court has generally looked with disfavor upon parties that have tried to use the FOIA to circumvent the discovery rules" ); Renegotiation Bd. v. Bannercraft Clothing Co., Inc., 415 U.S. 1, 24, 94 S.Ct. 1028, 39 L.Ed.2d 123 (1974) ( " [d]iscovery for litigation purposes is not an expressly indicated purpose of [FOIA]" ).

Ocasio's motion is likewise unwarranted given that he could directly request the documents he seeks, and in fact has sought and received documents from the National Records Center. (ECF No. 20 at 5-6) (Ocasio has also sought records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles through the California Public Records Act. (ECF No. 20-2 at 159)) Judicial subpoenas in the FOIA litigation context are simply not the appropriate mechanism to obtain these documents.

Lastly, Ocasio seeks, in the alternative, in camera review, apparently of the military records in the possession of the National Personnel Records Center. He does not develop this argument beyond requesting the Court " to conduct an in camera inspection of the documents sought." (ECF No. 20 at 1) This is not enough to adequately raise the issue before the Court. " A litigant does not properly raise an issue by addressing it in a 'cursory fashion' with only 'bare-bones arguments.'" Cement Kiln Recycling Coal. v. E.P.A., 255 F.3d 855, 869, 347 U.S.App.D.C. 127 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Moreover, even if the briefing were sufficient to raise this issue, the documents sought are not in the possession of Defendant DOJ and, for reasons discussed above, are irrelevant to the present suit, and therefore in camera review is not warranted.

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED. An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

ORDER

Upon consideration of the Motion (ECF No. 20) of Plaintiff Juan Carlos Ocasio for an order granting limited discovery by way of issuance of judicial subpoenas or alternatively for in camera review, it is hereby

ORDERED that the motion is DENIED.


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