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Pinson v. United States Dept. of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 10, 2015

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, Springfield, MO USA.

         For U.S. Department of Justice, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., John Dignam, Defendants: Damon William Taaffe, Theresa Ekeoma Dike, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Carl Ezekiel Ross, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC USA; Eric Joseph Young, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC USA.

         For U.S. Marshal Service, Office of The Inspector General, Office of The Attorney General, Office of The Inspector General, Office of The Deputy Attorney General, Office of The Associate Attorney General, National Security Division, Office of Professional Responsibility, Defendants: Damon William Taaffe, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC USA; Eric Joseph Young, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC USA.

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          Re Document No.: 170

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

         RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

          Pro se Plaintiff Jeremy Pinson is currently 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, DOJ has asked Mr. Pinson to clarify his records requests, 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 DOJ improperly withheld numerous records from him in violation of FOIA. In response, DOJ has 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 DOJ's motion for partial summary judgment as to Mr. Pinson's numerous FOIA claims against DOJ's Executive Office of the United States Attorneys (" EOUSA" ). See generally Defs.' Mot. Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 170. Mr. Pinson claims that the EOUSA responded to 21 numbered FOIA requests that he submitted between 2010 and 2013, but that it unlawfully " refused to produce records" corresponding to those requests. See Corr. 2d Am. Compl. at 10-11, ECF No. 32. Mr. Pinson further claims that the EOUSA failed to respond to 21 unnumbered FOIA requests during the same time period. See id. at 11-12. DOJ's motion for partial summary judgment addresses 18 of the numbered claims[1] and all 21 unnumbered claims, and argues: (1) as to the 21 unnumbered requests, that there is no record of Mr. Pinson having properly submitted them; (2) as to 15 of the numbered requests, that Mr. Pinson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and (3) as to the remaining three requests (and in the alternative for the 15 requests for which DOJ claims Mr. Pinson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies), that the EOUSA responded in accordance with FOIA by conducting an adequate search for responsive documents and releasing any non-exempt information to Mr. Pinson. See generally Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 170-1 (hereinafter " Defs.' Mem. Supp." ).

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part DOJ's motion for partial summary judgment.

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         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Request Nos. 12-1757, 12-1758, and 12-1760

         On February 26, 2012, Mr. Pinson submitted a FOIA request for the " production of all documents, emails, or records" for ten different cases, identified by case number, litigated by six different U.S. Attorneys' Offices. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 41, ECF No. 170-4. The EOUSA split this request into several separate requests, each of which dealt with a separate U.S. Attorney's Office. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ ¶ 43, 46, 51; see also DOJ's Exs. KK, NN, TT, ECF No. 170-5. At issue in this memorandum are Request No. 12-1757 (requesting information regarding three cases from the Middle District of Pennsylvania), Request No. 12-1758 (requesting information regarding three cases from the Eastern District of Kentucky), and Request No. 12-1760 (requesting information regarding one case from the Northern District of West Virginia). The EOUSA sent Mr. Pinson a letter acknowledging these requests on May 23, 2012, see Luczynski Decl. ¶ 42, but did not respond to the requests until sixteen months later, and only after Mr. Pinson had filed his initial complaint on November 15, 2012, see Compl., ECF No. 1. On September 25, 2013, the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson that the documents responsive to each of these requests contained information concerning third parties, invoking the Privacy Act and FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). See DOJ's EXs. KK, OO, TT. The agency explained that such information generally cannot be released absent express authorization or consent of the third party, proof that the subject of the request is deceased, or a clear demonstration that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the third party's personal privacy interest. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ ¶ 43, 46, 51. Mr. Pinson appealed those determinations on October 31, 2013, id. at ¶ ¶ 44, 48, 54, after he had already filed his Second Amended Complaint on October 23, 2013, claiming that the EOUSA improperly refused to produce these records, see Corr. 2d Am. Compl. at 10.

         B. Request Nos. 12-1748 and 12-1752

         On February 22, 2012, Mr. Pinson submitted a request for the " production of all documents, emails, or records located in the U.S. Attorney's Office related to" the litigation of a number of cases in the Northern District of Alabama, Eastern District of Virginia, Southern District of California, and the Central District of California. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 26. The EOUSA acknowledged the request on May 23, 2012, id. ¶ 26, and split it into four separate requests.

         The EOUSA assigned the request for records from the Northern District of Alabama Request No. 12-1748, id. ¶ 27, but otherwise did not respond before Mr. Pinson filed his initial complaint.[3] The EOUSA did eventually

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respond on September 25, 2013, informing Mr. Pinson that its search had revealed no responsive records. Id. ¶ 28. Mr. Pinson filed an administrative appeal on October 31, 2013. Id. ¶ 29. Again, Mr. Pinson's appeal was filed only after he had filed his Second Amended Complaint in this Court.

         The request for records from the Southern District of California was assigned Request No. 12-1752. See DOJ's Ex. GG. On July 20, 2012, the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson that its search for records in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California had identified no responsive records. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 40. Mr. Pinson has not filed an appeal regarding this request. Id.

         C. Request No. 12-3947

         On August 10, 2012, Mr. Pinson submitted a FOIA request for information concerning several federal cases involving a number of third parties filed in the Northern District of Georgia, the District of Colorado, the Tenth Circuit, the District for the District of Columbia, and the Central District of California. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 79; DOJ's Ex. QQQ. On September 28, 2012, the EOUSA notified Mr. Pinson that it had denied the request in full, citing the Privacy Act and FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). See id. ¶ 80; DOJ's Ex. RRR. Mr. Pinson has not filed an appeal of this determination. See id.

         D. Request No. 13-1085

         By letter dated March 19, 2013, Mr. Pinson submitted a FOIA request for discovery material concerning the federal criminal cases of third parties named Garcia and Espudo. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 81; DOJ's Ex. SSS. In response to this request, the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson that it would not release the information because such third party information was protected under the Privacy Act and FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C). See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 82; DOJ's Ex. TTT. Mr. Pinson thereafter agreed to limit the scope of his request to solely public records. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 83. On December 12, 2013, the EOUSA released 100 pages of public records pertaining to his request free of charge and, upon learning that the records had not been received, sent the documents to Mr. Pinson a second time on February 11, 2015. Luczynski Decl. ¶ ¶ 84-85. Mr. Pinson has not filed an appeal. Id. ¶ 85. Mr. Pinson claims that his counselor at MCF Springfield seized the records that the EOUSA sent to him on February 11, 2015, reviewed the records' contents, and refused to provide them to him. See Pl.'s Resp. at 2-3, ECF No. 223; Pinson Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 223 at 11.

         E. Request No. 12-3095

         Mr. Pinson submitted a FOIA request on January 16, 2012 requesting information regarding four criminal cases in four federal districts. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 67. The EOUSA assigned Request No. 12-3095 to Mr. Pinson's request for information about Chester v. Unknown BOP in the Western District of Virginia.[4]Id. ΒΆ 70. The EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson on October 31, 2012 that it had conducted a search of the U.S. ...


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