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Alaniz v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 25, 2016

MARTIN SANCHEZ-ALANIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

EMMET G. SULLIVAN, United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 32] and Plaintiff’s Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 34]. The Court will deny plaintiff’s cross-motion and instead construe it as his opposition to defendants’ renewed motion. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant defendants’ motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff “is currently serving a sentence of 108 months[’] imprisonment imposed by the [United States District Court for] the Southern District of Texas based on a conviction for illegal reentry of a deported alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326.” Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summ. J. [ECF No. 15] (“Defs.’ Mem.”), Decl. of Jennifer Vickers (“First Vickers Decl.”) ¶ 4; see Compl. at 2. He brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP” or “defendant”), a component of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), to challenge its response to three requests for information. See generally Compl. at 3-8.

A. Request Regarding Administrative Tort Claim No. TRT-WXR-2013-05023

Plaintiff alleges that, in August 2013, he submitted a FOIA request to the BOP’s Central Office “for a copy of the tort claim file related to Tort Claim No. TRT WXR 201305023, ” Compl. at 3; see id., Ex. A (Freedom of Information Act Request dated August 19, 2013), by which plaintiff demanded compensation of $134.40 for damage to his locker, see id. Ex. B-3 (Incident Report dated June 13, 2013), and for the loss of property contained therein, see id., Ex. B-4 (Small Claims for Property Damage or Loss) dated June 14, 2013). He also seeks “any claim[-]related statements issued by any employee or officer of the [BOP, ] exhibits, photographs, diagrams, repair orders, and any other reports related to” the claim. Id. at 3. Plaintiff explains that the BOP denied his tort claim, id. Ex. C (Letter to plaintiff from Dominic Ayotte, Deputy Regional Counsel, Western Regional Office, BOP), and the information he requested would allow him “to determine what facts or evidence the regional counsel relied upon to deny the claim.” Id.

“The [Western Regional Counsel’s Office (WXRO)] received [p]laintiff’s FOIA request . . . on August 23, 2013.” First Vickers Decl. ¶ 17. WXRO staff returned the request to plaintiff, instructing him “that [this] request and [any] future requests must be submitted pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 513.60” to the BOP’s Central Office in Washington, D.C. First Vickers Decl. ¶ 17; see id., Attach. 3 (Letter to plaintiff from Dennis M. Wong, Regional Counsel, Western Regional Office, BOP, dated August 23, 2013). The declarant “ran a FOIA Report for all requests made by [p]laintiff and received in the BOP database.” Id. ¶ 18; see id., Attach. 4 (FOIA search results). She determined that “[t]he Central Office never received a FOIA request [from plaintiff] for the investigative reports pertaining to TRT-WXR-2013-05023.” Id. ¶ 18. In other words, plaintiff “never filed with the Central Office as advised by the WXRO and required by [regulation].” Id.

B. FOIA Request No. 2013-10877

Plaintiff alleges that, in August 2013, he submitted another FOIA request to the BOP’s Central Office “for a copy of [a] report issued by the Special Investigative Service at Atwater United States Penitentiary in Atwater[, ] California . . . on or about May 2013, June 2013, or July 2013.” Compl. at 4; see id., Ex. D (Freedom of Information Act Request dated August 6, 2013). According to plaintiff, “[t]he report indicates separation factors and the degree of risk of physical injury or death [he faced] at Atwater USP.” Compl. at 4. The BOP’s declarant states that the Central Office received the request on August 19, 2013, First Vickers Decl. ¶ 20, and forwarded the matter to the WXRO for processing, id. ¶ 21. “The WXRO FOIA technician assigned FOIA Request No. 2013-10877 to this request.” Id.

Upon receipt of five pages of responsive records from USP Atwater, see id., Attach. 5 (email dated November 2, 2013 regarding FOIA Request 10877), on December 11, 2013, WXRO staff released the documents in part to plaintiff at no charge, redacting “portions of each of . . . page[] pursuant to [Exemptions 7(C) and 7(F)], ” id. ¶ 22; see id., Attach. 7 (redacted Inmate Investigation Report, Case Number ATW-13-0207-A). The letter accompanying the release of records notified plaintiff of his right to file an administrative appeal to the DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (“OIP”) within 60 days. See id., Attach. 6 (Letter to plaintiff from Dennis M. Wong, Regional Counsel, WXRO, dated December 11, 2013). WXRO administratively closed the matter “pending notification from [plaintiff] as to whether he was satisfied with the WXRO decision.” Id. ¶ 23. According to the declarant, “WXRO . . . received no further correspondence from [plaintiff] with regard to this FOIA [r]equest, ” id. ¶ 23, and he “has not appealed WXRO’s decision on FOIA Request No. 2013-10877” to the OIP, id. ¶ 24.

C. FOIA Request No. 2013-01945

Plaintiff alleges that, in September 2012, he submitted a FOIA request to the BOP’s Central Office, Compl. at 5, for the following information:

[1] All medical records generated between January 2003 to September 13[, ] 2012[.]
[2] All commissary records generated between April 2012 to September 13[, ] 2012 listing all the commissary items [he] purchased at Yazoo Medium Security prison in Yazoo City[, ] Mississippi[.]
[3] All use of force reports . . . generated between April 22[, ] 2012 to September 13[, ] 2012 at Yazoo Medium Security prison in Yazoo City[, ] MS[.]
[4] A copy of [his] complete central file and privacy folder related to [his] current commitment in Case No. 5:11-cr-961 [.]
[5] A copy of [his] complete RETIRED central file and privacy folder related to a previous commitment in Case No. 3:03-cr-426L[.]

Id., Ex. F (Freedom of Information Act Request for Records dated September 13, 2012).

The BOP Central Office received this request on November 29, 2012, and assigned the matter to the Southeast Regional Office (“SERO”) for processing. First Vickers Decl. ¶ 27. “The SERO FOIA technician assigned FOIA Request No. 2013-01945 to this matter [and] sent an acknowledgment letter to [plaintiff].” Id. SERO staff estimated that fees for processing the request totaled $96.60, and notified plaintiff that the BOP would proceed no further unless plaintiff either confirmed his willingness to pay the fees, modified his request, or accept the two hours of search time available to him at no cost. Id. ¶ 28; see id., Attach. 9 (Letter to plaintiff from Craig Simmons, Deputy Regional Counsel, SERO, dated December 7, 2012). Plaintiff refused to pay the fees. See id. ¶ 30-31; see ...


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