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Richardson v. United States

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 19, 2015

HENRY PAUL RICHARDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

HENRY PAUL RICHARDSON, Plaintiff, Pro se, Pine Knot, KY.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant: Rafique Omar Anderson, Robert N. Englund, LEAD ATTORNEYS, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Henry Paul Richardson, proceeding pro se, brings this action against the United States of America under the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (Def.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, July 17, 2014 [ECF No. 21] (" Def.'s SJ Mot." )), which plaintiff has opposed (Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s SJ Mot., Oct. 23, 2014 [ECF No. 29]), and plaintiff's motions for a continuance, for discovery and to amend the complaint. (Pl.'s Mot. for Continuance Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 56(f)/And Stay the Proceeding Giving the Plaintiff A[n] Opportunity to Amend the Complaint in the Interest of Justice, Sept. 29, 2014 [ECF No. 26]; Pl.'s Mot. Requesting for Discovery Under Fed. Rules of Civil P. Rule 56(f), Sept. 29, 2014 [ECF No. 27]; Pl.'s Mot. to Amend the Compl. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, October 6, 2014 [ECF No. 28].) For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part and plaintiffs' motions will be denied.

BACKGROUND

In May 2011, plaintiff submitted a FOIA request for records to the Executive Office of United States Attorneys. (Compl., Ex. 1 [ECF No. 1].) His request sought all records from the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Virginia bearing the names " Henry Paul Richardson," " Henry Richardson," and " alias name(s) 'Packer' and 'Packa,'" including, inter alia, " all surveillance pictures." ( Id.)

In September 2011, plaintiff was informed that the EOUSA had located responsive records, but that he would have to pay a fee of $56.00 to have the search completed as the search would exceed the two free hours of search time allotted to each FOIA request. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Def.'s SJ Mot. ¶ 3, July 17, 2014 [ECF No. 21-1] (" Def.'s Facts" ).) Plaintiff paid the fee in October 2011 ( id. ¶ 4); thereafter, he sent several letters inquiring about the status of his request. (Compl., Exs. 2-3; Def.'s Facts ¶ ¶ 5-6.) In August 2013, having received no records or other substantive response, he filed the abovecaptioned case asking the Court to order the EOUSA to respond to his FOIA request. ( See Compl. at 3.)

In March 2014, defendant informed the Court that the EOUSA had completed its search and located over 2000 pages of potentially responsive documents.[1] ( See Def.'s Mot. for Enlargement of Time In Order to Allow Pl. an Opportunity to Respond to Fee Request Letter at 1, Mar. 14, 2014 [ECF No. 13]; Supp. Decl. of David Luczynski ¶ 2, July 16, 2014 [ECF No. 21-4].) The EOUSA initially released 100 pages to plaintiff, the amount he was entitled to without paying any fees, and informed him that he would have to agree to copying fees of $.10 per page for additional pages. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 8.) After plaintiff paid the fee,[2] the EOUSA processed the remaining records. (Def.'s Facts ¶ 9.) It determined that there were 1240 responsive pages, out of which it released 22 pages in full, released 1 page in part, and withheld 1217 pages in full, relying on various combinations of FOIA Exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(C). (Def.'s Facts ¶ 9; Luczynski Supp. Decl. ¶ 3.)

Defendant moves for summary judgment on the ground that its response to plaintiff's request has satisfied its obligations under the FOIA. Its motion is supported by two declarations from David Luczynski, an attorney-advisor at the EOUSA, and a Vaughn index that describes the withheld records and identifies the FOIA exemptions the EOUSA is relying on to justify its withholdings. Plaintiff has filed an opposition challenging defendant's production as incomplete, along with motions for a continuance, for discovery and to amend the complaint.

ANALYSIS

I. DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and evidence show 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); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). On " summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Serv., 726 F.3d 208, 215, 406 U.S.App.D.C. 440 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Where, as here, a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court has " an obligation to construe pro se filings liberally." Toolasprashad v. Bureau of Prisons, 286 F.3d 576, 583, 351 U.S.App.D.C. 64 (D.C. Cir. 2002); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972).

" FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment." See, e.g., Higgins v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 919 F.Supp.2d 131, 139 (D.D.C. 2013) (internal quotations omitted). To obtain summary judgment, a defendant agency must establish that it has conducted an adequate search for responsive records, that each responsive record that it has located either has been produced to the plaintiff or is exempt from disclosure, and that it has not withheld any reasonably segregable information. See Weisberg v. Dep't of Justice, 627 F.2d 365, 368, 200 U.S.App.D.C. 312 (D.C. Cir. 1980); Elec. Frontier Found. v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 739 F.3d 1, 12, 408 U.S.App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2014). " [S]ummary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits if they contain reasonable specificity of detail rather than merely conclusory ...


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