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Pinson v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 24, 2014

JEREMY PINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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JEREMY PINSON, Plaintiff, Pro se, FLORENCE, CO.

MICHAEL STINE, Plaintiff, Pro se, FLORENCE, CO.

CHRIS DENNISON, Plaintiff, Pro se, FLORENCE, CO.

GREG MURRAY, Plaintiff, Pro se, FLORENCE, CO.

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

For FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, CHARLES E. SAMUELS, JR., BLAKE DAVIS, JOHN DIGNAM, Defendants: John H. Spittell, Theresa Ekeoma Dike, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

Page 128

Re Document No.: 48

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Jeremy Pinson currently is an inmate at ADX Florence, a federal prison located in Colorado. While in prison, Mr. Pinson has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552, requests with different components of the U.S. Department of Justice (" DOJ" ). On several occasions, the DOJ has asked him to clarify his records requests, told him that it could not find records that are responsive to his request, or informed him that the records he sought were exempt from disclosure by law. Mr. Pinson took issue with some of these determinations, so he filed a complaint claiming that the DOJ improperly withheld numerous records from him in violation of FOIA, as well as that the DOJ and two government officials violated the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and certain unspecified provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

In response, the DOJ filed nine pre-answer motions, each asking the Court to dismiss or grant summary judgment in its favor on different portions of Mr. Pinson's complaint. Now before the Court is the DOJ's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to Mr. Pinson's FOIA claims regarding the DOJ's Criminal Division. Specifically, Mr. Pinson alleges that the Criminal Division wrongly withheld records in response to FOIA requests that he submitted in 2011 (Request No. 11-351-P) and 2012 (Request No. 12-844-P). The DOJ argues that Mr. Pinson's claims must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In addition, the DOJ argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on the FOIA causes of action because the Criminal Division conducted an adequate search in response to Request No. 11-351-P and correctly refused to respond to Request No. 12-844-P because the request sought records that were exempt under FOIA.

For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the DOJ's motion as to Request No. 11-351-P. The Court, however, will grant in full the DOJ's motion for summary judgment as to Request No. 12-844-P on the basis that Mr. Pinson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On April 20, 2011, Mr. Pinson sent a FOIA request (Request No. 11-351-P) to the Criminal Division seeking (1) " [a]ll [documents] which mention, reference myself by name, or an identifier assigned to my name," (2) an " [o]rginizational [sic] chart," (3) the Criminal Division's " [m]ission statement," and (4) the Criminal Division's " 2011 Budget." (Pinson Letter Ex. 1., Apr. 20, 2011, ECF No. 48.) On May 25, 2011, the Criminal Division responded with a letter asking Mr. Pinson about where he wanted the Criminal Division to search for records referencing his name and giving Mr. Pinson a copy of the " mission statement and organizational chart for the criminal Division." (DOJ Letter Ex. 2, May 25, 2011, ECF No. 48.) On June 1, 2011, Mr. Pinson responded with a letter providing the information requested by the Criminal Division. ( See Pinson Letter Ex. 3, June 1, 2011, ECF No. 48.)

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Upon receipt of Mr. Pinson's letter, the Criminal Division sent Mr. Pinson a new acknowledgment letter (DOJ Letter Ex. 4, June 13, 2011, ECF No. 48) and searched the places Mr. Pinson requested but did not find any documents referencing his name ( see Cunningham Decl. ¶ ¶ 21-31, ECF No. 48). Consequently, on July 18, 2011, the Criminal Division informed Mr. Pinson that it was unable to locate records responsive to the request. ( See DOJ Letter Ex. 5, July 18, 2011, ECF No. 48.) Mr. Pinson, however, alleges that he never received the DOJ's July 18 response. ( See Pinson Decl. Ex. 1, at ¶ 6, ECF No. 59.) He therefore argues that he could not appeal the DOJ's response to his FOIA request for this reason.

On August 1, 2012, Mr. Pinson submitted a second FOIA request (Request No. 12-844-P) to the Criminal Division, this time requesting " production of all information maintained on Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin." (Pinson Letter Ex. 6, Aug. 1, 2012, ECF No. 48.) The Criminal Division responded with a letter refusing to " confirm or deny the existence of any records responsive to [this] request," and explaining that the release of such records " could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of [Mr. Al-Amin's] personal privacy" under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). (DOJ Letter Ex. 7, Oct. 19, 2012, ECF No. 48.) According to Mr. Pinson, he drafted a letter appealing this determination and gave that letter to his prison counselor to mail to the DOJ. ( See Pinson Decl. ΒΆ 9.) The Criminal Division, however, has no record of receiving the ...


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