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Pinson v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 1, 2016

JEREMY PINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendant. Re Document No. 254

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Jeremy Pinson is currently an inmate at USP Allenwood, a federal prison located in Pennsylvania. 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.

         DOJ previously moved for summary judgment as to Mr. Pinson’s numerous FOIA claims against DOJ’s Executive Office of the United States Attorneys (“EOUSA”). The Court resolved that prior motion by granting summary judgment in part to DOJ and denying summary judgment in part. See Pinson v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, No. 12-1872, 2015 WL 7008124 (D.D.C. Nov. 10, 2015). Now before the Court is DOJ’s renewed motion for summary judgment addressing those requests for which the Court denied summary judgment or for which DOJ did not previously move for summary judgment. See generally Defs.’ 2d Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 254. DOJ’s renewed motion addresses eleven numbered requests, and argues that responsive records were properly withheld under the Privacy Act or FOIA and that those searches for responsive records that were conducted were reasonably calculated to identify responsive records. Defs.’ Mem. Supp. 2d Mot. for Summ. J. at 2, ECF No. 254-2 (“Defs.’ Mem. Supp.”).

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

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Request No. 11-3289

         On May 25, 2011, Mr. Pinson submitted a request for records “concerning the arrest[ ] [and] prosecution of federal employees at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado” and “at U.S.P. Victorville located in [the] Central District of California.” Luczynski Decl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 254-3; see DOJ’s Ex. A, ECF No. 254-4. After Mr. Pinson appealed the EOUSA’s initial denial of his request, DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (“OIP”) remanded the request to the EOUSA with instructions to perform an additional search for “records pertaining to any arrests and/or prosecutions of any federal employees at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, CO and at USP Victorville located within the District of Colorado and the Central District of California.” Luczynski Decl. ¶ 3; see DOJ’s Ex. D. On February 14, 2012, the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson that its search for information had revealed no responsive records. See Moncayo Decl. ¶ 8, DOJ’s Ex. I.[1] Mr. Pinson filed an appeal on March 26, 2012, and OIP assigned his appeal number AP-2012-01696. See Luczynski Decl. ¶¶ 6-7; DOJ’s Exs. G, H. The Court previously denied summary judgment because DOJ failed to provide a reasonably detailed affidavit supporting the agency’s search for responsive documents. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *8-9. In its renewed motion, DOJ defends the adequacy of the EOUSA’s search for responsive records as reasonably calculated to lead to any potentially responsive documents. See generally Moncayo Decl., DOJ’s Ex. I.

         B. Request No. 11-4508

         Mr. Pinson submitted a FOIA request on November 9, 2011 seeking records relating to several cases filed in three federal districts, including a case in the Northern District of West Virginia. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 9. Mr. Pinson requested that the agency spend “no more than 2 hours search time” and produce no more than “100 pages of information” per case. DOJ’s Ex. J. The EOUSA split the request into three separate requests by district, and the request for documents from the Northern District of West Virginia was assigned Request No. 11-4508. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 10; DOJ’s Ex. K. After the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson that its first search revealed no documents responsive to Request No. 11-4508, Mr. Pinson sent a letter to the EOUSA claiming that the agency had erroneously searched for records pertaining to him and clarifying that he in fact sought records related to the Bureau of Prison’s defense of a federal lawsuit. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 12; DOJ’s Ex. M. Thereafter, the EOUSA released in full 205 pages of records. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 14; DOJ’s Ex. O. The Court previously denied summary judgment because DOJ failed to provide a reasonably detailed affidavit supporting the agency’s search for responsive documents. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *8-9. In its renewed motion, however, DOJ claims that “there is no need to consider the adequacy of the search” because Mr. Pinson “received more than twice as many responsive records as he requested, and received them without payment that might have been charged” and, therefore, “his request has been fully satisfied.” Defs.’ Mem. Supp. at 13.

         C. Request No. 12-1748

         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, the Eastern District of Virginia, the Southern District of California, and the Central District of California. Luczynski Decl. ¶ 15. The EOUSA acknowledged the request on May 23, 2012, split it into four separate requests, and assigned the request for records from the Northern District of Alabama Request No. 12-1748. See Id. ¶ 16; DOJ’s Ex. Q. The EOUSA responded to Mr. Pinson on September 25, 2013, informing him that its search had revealed no responsive records. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 17; DOJ’s Ex. R. On October 31, 2013, Mr. Pinson submitted a letter to the EOUSA stating that the agency had failed to release public records as stated in his original request. See DOJ’s Ex. T. On November 26, 2013, however, OIP informed plaintiff that since he filed a lawsuit regarding the processing of the case, the appeal had been closed. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 20; DOJ’s Ex. V. This Court previously denied DOJ’s motion for summary judgment with respect to this request, concluding that Mr. Pinson had constructively exhausted his administrative remedies and that DOJ had failed to provide a reasonably detailed affidavit supporting the agency’s search for responsive documents. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *5-6, *8-9. In its renewed motion, DOJ has included a new declaration detailing the search that was conducted, and again defends the adequacy of the EOUSA’s search for responsive records as reasonably calculated to lead to any potentially responsive documents. See generally Brown Decl., DOJ’s Ex. S.

         D. Request No. 12-1754

         DOJ did not move for summary judgment on Request No. 12-1754 in its prior motion. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *1 n.1. Like Request No. 12-1748, Request No. 12-1754 was among the four requests that Mr. Pinson submitted on February 22, 2012 that were split into different requests. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 21. Mr. Pinson’s request related to the Central District of California was assigned Request No. 12-1754. See id.; DOJ’s Ex. X. Following a search for responsive records in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, twenty boxes of records were located concerning twenty-six defendants. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 22. The EOUSA claims that, because the case was still in litigation pending appeal, no documents related to the case could be produced for distribution to Mr. Pinson. See id.; see also Salazar Decl. ¶ 5, DOJ’s Ex. X1. Yet, there is no record that the EOUSA ever informed Mr. Pinson of that determination.

         E. Request No. 12-1757

         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. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 23. This request was split into several requests, and Mr. Pinson’s request for information regarding three cases from the Middle District of Pennsylvania was assigned Request No. 12-1757. See DOJ’s Ex. Z. Initially, the EOUSA responded and asserted that because Mr. Pinson “requested records concerning a third party (or third parties), ” pursuant to the Privacy Act those records “cannot be released absent express authorization and 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 personal privacy interest and that significant public benefit would result from the disclosure of the requested records.” DOJ’s Ex. AA. Mr. Pinson appealed, claiming that he sought only “public records” which are not exempt under the Privacy Act. See DOJ’s Ex. BB. The EOUSA closed Mr. Pinson’s appeal after he filed this lawsuit. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 27; DOJ’s Ex CC. This Court previously denied DOJ’s motion for summary judgment with respect to this request, concluding that Mr. Pinson had constructively exhausted his administrative remedies and that DOJ had failed to provide a reasonably detailed affidavit supporting the agency’s search for responsive documents. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *5-6, *8-9. DOJ has now supplied a new declaration detailing the search for records responsive to Mr. Pinson’s request and noting that a search located thirty-seven pages of responsive records. See Matuszewski Decl. ¶ 13, DOJ’s Ex. DD. DOJ claims all of the records concern various third party individuals, and none of records contain information regarding the plaintiff, and were therefore properly withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C). See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 28; DOJ’s Ex. DD1.

         F. Request No. 12-1758

         Request No. 12-1758 was similarly formed from splitting Mr. Pinson’s February 26, 2012 request, and concerns Mr. Pinson’s request for records from the Eastern District of Kentucky. See Luczynski Decl. ¶ 29; DOJ’s Ex. EE. The request’s history follows similar lines: After the EOUSA claimed that all of the records related to third parties and therefore were exempt, Mr. Pinson appealed asserting that the agency had failed to release public records as stated in his original request, and the EOUSA then closed that appeal in light of Mr. Pinson’s lawsuit. See Luczynski Decl. ¶¶ 30-33; DOJ’s Exs. FF, GG, II. This Court previously denied DOJ’s motion for summary judgment with respect to this request, concluding that Mr. Pinson had constructively exhausted his administrative remedies and that DOJ had failed to provide a reasonably detailed affidavit supporting the agency’s search for responsive documents. See Pinson, 2015 WL 7008124, at *5-6, *8-9. After this Court issued its opinion, the EOUSA informed Mr. Pinson by letter dated December 11, 2015 that 100 pages of public records ...


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