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Spears v. United States

United States District Court, D. Columbia

September 29, 2015

KEONTAE SPEARS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE et al., Defendants

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          KEONTAE SPEARS, Plaintiff, Pro se, FORT DIX, NJ.

         For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE CRIMINAL DIVISION, KENNETH COURTER, Chief of the FOIA/PA Unit - Sued in his individual and official capacity, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICE OF INFORMATION POLICY, DIRECTOR OF OIP, SEAN R. O'NEILL, OIP Chief Administrator - Sued in his individual and official capacity, Defendants: Claire M. Whitaker, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Keontae Spears challenges the response of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the wiretapping of his telephone conversations. Mr. Spears sues DOJ, FOIA Unit Chief Kenneth Courter, and Attorney Advisors Timothy A. Zeise and Sean O'Neill. Pending is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. 13]. Because the individual defendants are not subject to suit under the FOIA, Martinez v. Bureau of Prisons, 444 F.3d 620, 624, 370 U.S.App.D.C. 275 (D.C. Cir. 2006), the complaint against those defendants is hereby dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant summary judgment to DOJ and will enter judgment accordingly.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January 2014, Mr. Spears requested from DOJ's Criminal Division " an authentic . . . copy of the Title III authorization memorandums, and all other documents tied to the approval of these memorandums for the electronic surveillance for [four listed] telephone numbers that I am alleged to have had my private conversations intercepted, monitored, and disclosed over[.]" Decl. of Peter C. Sprung [Dkt. 13-2] (Sprung Decl.), Ex. A (FOIA Request). Mr. Spears requested expedited treatment of the request " as any delay could result in a substantial los[s] of due process rights for this requester in [the Western District of Pennsylvania] criminal case[.]" [1] Id.

         On February 18, 2014, the Acting Chief of the Criminal Division's FOIA/PA Unit informed Mr. Spears that no search for records had occurred because any responsive records would be exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 3, codified at 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). Id., Ex. B. Mr. Spears appealed to the Office of Information Policy (" OIP" ), which affirmed the Criminal Division's decision by letter of May 30, 2014. Id., Ex. E. Mr. Spears was told that OIP would further consider his appeal if he could provide evidence that any electronic surveillance material was unsealed by a court.

         Mr. Spears filed this action in August 2014. The Criminal Division then " searched the two records systems that would contain information responsive to Mr. Spears's request." Id. ¶ 21. The Criminal Division located responsive records, but it withheld all of the records under FOIA exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(C). See id., Ex. F (Defs.' Vaughn Index).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate " if the movant shows [through facts supported in the record] 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, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). This procedural device is not a " disfavored legal shortcut" but a reasoned

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and careful way to resolve cases fairly and expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The FOIA confers jurisdiction on the district court to enjoin an agency from improperly withholding records maintained or controlled by the agency. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); McGehee v. CIA, 697 F.2d 1095, 1105, 225 U.S.App.D.C. 205 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (quoting Kissinger v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 445 U.S. 136, 150, 100 S.Ct. 960, 63 L.Ed.2d 267 (1980)); Lazaridis v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 713 F.Supp.2d 64, 66 (D.D.C. 2010). Summary judgment is the frequent vehicle for resolution of a FOIA action because the pleadings and declarations in such cases often provide undisputed facts on which the moving parties are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McLaughlin v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 530 F.Supp.2d 210, 212 (D.D.C. 2008) (citations omitted). Agencies may rely on affidavits or ...


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