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Pinson v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 19, 2015

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

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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, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION Re Document No.: 62

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

Granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for summary judgment

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jeremy Pinson is an inmate currently housed at MCFP Springfield, a federal administrative security medical center located in Missouri. 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 Mr. Pinson to clarify his records requests,

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told him that it could not find records that are responsive to his requests, 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. In response, the DOJ filed several 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 numerous FOIA claims against the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General (" the OIG" ). Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 62. Mr. Pinson claims that the OIG responded to seven FOIA requests that he submitted between 2010 and 2013,[1] but that it unlawfully " refused to release info" corresponding to those requests. See Corr. 2d. Am. Compl. at 8, ECF No. 32. He further claims that the OIG failed to respond at all to six requests that he submitted during the same time period. See id. at 9. The DOJ seeks to dismiss Mr. Pinson's claims as to all thirteen FOIA requests, and moves for summary judgment in the alternative, arguing that: (1) as to four of the requests, Mr. Pinson failed to exhaust administrative remedies, (2) as to another four requests, the OIG responded in accordance with FOIA, engaged in reasonable searches for the requested information, and released any non-exempt information to Mr. Pinson, and (3) as to the remaining five requests, the agency never received the requests mentioned in Mr. Pinson's complaint. See generally Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Summ. J. at 1, ECF No. 62-1 (" Def.'s Mem." ).

For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Request No. 11-OIG-15

On November 1, 2011, the OIG received a FOIA request from Mr. Pinson seeking " all documents . . . relevant to myself generated after June 1, 2009," (Part One) and " all documents relevant to the investigation or prosecution of Case No. 07-CR-00273 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York" (Part Two). See Waller Decl. ¶ ¶ 8--9, Def.'s Attach. A, ECF No. 62--3; id. at Ex. 3. Upon receipt, the OIG consolidated the requests into Request No. 11-OIG-15, see id. at Ex. 4, and conducted a search of the agency's investigative records database for records responsive to both parts of Mr. Pinson's request, see id. at ¶ 8.

On November 15, 2010, the agency issued a letter to Mr. Pinson stating that it had found " no responsive records" regarding Part Two of his request, but that it was releasing all responsive documents relating to Part One, with redactions made in accordance with FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). See id. at ¶ 10; id. at Ex. 4. The DOJ contends that the OIG complied with its FOIA duties and is entitled to summary judgment as to Request No. 11-OIG-15. See Def.'s Mem. at 13.

Mr. Pinson argues that the agency's search was not adequate as to either part of his request. Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Summ. J. at 3--4, ECF No. 79

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(" Pl.'s Resp." ). He contends that the OIG's response to Part One of his request is incomplete because comments on the documents received " indicate the existence of handwritten notes," that were not included in the materials provided to him. Pinson Decl. ¶ 3, Pl.'s Ex. 1, ECF No. 79. Mr. Pinson further contends that the " no records" response to Part Two of his request was improper because public documents indicate the existence of records on the topic. Id. at ¶ 2.

B. Request No. 11-OIG-49

On December 9, 2010, the OIG received two requests from Mr. Pinson, the first seeking all documents relating to himself located in the agency's Houston and Los Angeles Offices, and the second requesting all complaints filed in 2010 that make reference to the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama. See Waller Decl. ¶ 11; id. at Ex. 5. OIG consolidated the requests and assigned them Request No. 11-OIG-49. See id. at Ex. 6. However, before the OIG responded to Mr. Pinson's request, it received a copy of a letter that the Office of Information Policy (" OIP" ) had sent to Mr. Pinson, stating that " due to outstanding FOIA fees with the Bureau of Prisons, no further requests or appeals, including this particular request, could be processed under the FOIA until all fees were paid." See id. ¶ 11. On April 22, 2011, the OIG notified Mr. Pinson that it was administratively closing his request due to outstanding fees. See id.; id. at Ex. 6.

Mr. Pinson appealed that decision to the OIP, and on June 21, 2011, the OIG received another letter from the OIP, this time stating that Mr. Pinson had paid his outstanding fees to the Bureau of Prisons (" BOP" ) and that his request was being remanded to the OIG for processing. See id. ¶ 11. Accordingly, the OIG claims that on June 25, 2012, it sent Mr. Pinson all responsive documents sought in Request No. 11-OIG-49, redacted in part under FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). Id.; id. at Ex. 9. The agency acknowledges that the documents did not reach Mr. Pinson, however, and it asserts that its response package was " 'returned to sender'" by the BOP institution where Plaintiff had been housed," indicating that Mr. Pinson was no longer located at that facility. See id. ¶ 11. Mr. Pinson has never received the materials in question, Pinson Decl. ¶ 4, but the DOJ maintains that the agency is entitled to summary judgment because it conducted a reasonable search and properly released records to Mr. Pinson. See Def.'s Mem. at 13.

C. Request No. 11-OIG-150

On May 23, 2011, the OIG received a FOIA request from Mr. Pinson seeking " an address directory of all agency departments or offices." Waller Decl. Ex. 7. The agency responded to Mr. Pinson by denying his request on May 25, 2011, again due to outstanding fees owed to the BOP. See id. at ¶ 12; id. at Ex. 8. The DOJ seeks to dismiss Mr. Pinson's claim on exhaustion grounds, as he failed to appeal the OIG's May 25, 2011 response. See Def.'s Mem. at 12. Although Mr. Pinson's verified complaint asserts that he received the agency's response to this request on May 31, 2011,[2] Corr. 2d. Am. Compl. at 9, his opposition to DOJ's motion asserts that " it is beyond dispute that plaintiff never received [a] response[] to" Request No. 11-OIG-150, and thus he could not have

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been expected to appeal it. Pl.'s Resp. at 5.

D. Request No. 12-OIG-09

On September 19, 2011, the OIG received a request from Mr. Pinson seeking OIG reports concerning " conditions of confinement and/or customs/practices of the Federal Bureau of Prisons written or generated by OIG since 2005." [3] See Waller Decl. ¶ 13, id. at Ex. 10. The agency performed a search in response to this request, but claims that it did not find any responsive information. Id. at ¶ 13. It claims to have so informed Mr. Pinson by letter dated October 18, 2011, see id.; id. at Ex. 11, and argues that because Mr. Pinson never appealed the response, the claim has not been administratively exhausted, see Def.'s Mem. at 12.

Although Mr. Pinson's verified complaint asserts that he received the agency's response on October 21, 2011, Corr. 2d. Am. Compl. at 9, he now asserts that " it is beyond dispute that plaintiff never received responses to" Request No. 12-OIG-09, and thus he could not have been expected to appeal it, Pl.'s Resp. at 5.

E. Request No. 12-OIG-257

The OIG next received a request from Mr. Pinson dated August 28, 2012, seeking " all information referencing Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin." Waller Decl. ¶ 6; id. at Ex. 16. The agency issued a " Glomar" response on December 4, 2012, neither confirming nor denying the existence of any records pertaining to Mr. Al-Amin, because Mr. Al-Amin had not consented to the release of his investigatory records to a third party. See id. at ¶ 16; id. at Ex. 17. Mr. Pinson argues that the Glomar response was erroneous because he sent the OIG a waiver containing Mr. Al-Amin's signature, which was sufficient for the release of the requested records. Pl.'s Resp. at 4.

F. Request Nos. 13-OIG-206[4]

In a FOIA request dated August 10, 2013, Mr. Pinson requested documents relating to the investigation of six deaths at ADX Florence, as well as all e-mails and all correspondence " authored by Denver field office agents during 2011 to 2013" that mention ADX Florence. See Waller Decl. ¶ 21; id. at Ex. 25. The OIG claims to have searched but found no records in response to this request, id. at ¶ 21; id. at Ex. 26, and it asserts that Mr. Pinson failed to appeal the agency's " no records" response from September 23, 2013. See Def.'s Mem. at 12. Although Mr. Pinson's verified complaint asserts that he received the agency's response on September 30, 2013, Corr. 2d. Am. Compl. at 9, he now asserts that " it is beyond dispute that plaintiff never received [a] response[]" to Request No. 13-OIG-206, and thus he could not have been expected to appeal it, Pl.'s Resp. at 5.

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G. Request No. 12-OIG-254


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