United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
2010, the U.S. Army charged Plaintiff Chelsea Manning,
then-Private First Class Bradley Manning, with violating U.S.
federal and military law for allegedly disclosing classified
and confidential information to the online organization
WikiLeaks. Plaintiff pleaded guilty to some of the charges in
February 2013 and was convicted of others by a military judge
in a court-martial in July 2013. Plaintiff now brings this
Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) action
against Defendants the U.S. Department of Justice
(“DOJ”) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(“FBI”), seeking records related to
Defendants' investigation into Plaintiff and others
related to the disclosures. This action is before the court
on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.
Defendants contend that they properly withheld all
information responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request under
FOIA Exemption 7(A), which allows agencies to shield law
enforcement records from public disclosure if releasing those
records would interfere with an ongoing investigation.
Plaintiff argues that the FBI improperly withheld records
related to her alone because any investigation into her
conduct that would justify such withholding must have
concluded when she was convicted and sentenced. Further,
Plaintiff contends that the agency improperly failed to
release any non-exempt, segregable material.
court finds that Defendants have adequately justified their
withholding of all records under Exemption 7(A). It therefore
grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and denies
Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
2010, the U.S. Army charged Plaintiff Chelsea Manning,
then-Private First Class Bradley Manning, with violations of
U.S. military and federal law for disclosing classified and
confidential information to WikiLeaks. Pl.'s Cross-Mot.
for Summ. J. and Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF
No. 14, at 3-7 [hereinafter Pl.'s Stmt.], ¶ 1;
Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts, ECF
No. 16-2 [hereinafter Defs.' Resp.], ¶ 1. In 2013,
Plaintiff pleaded guilty to some of the charges and went to
trial on the remaining charges. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 2;
Defs.' Resp. ¶ 2. Plaintiff was convicted of
espionage, theft, and computer fraud, as well as certain
other military offenses, and is currently serving a 35-year
sentence in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Pl.'s Stmt.
¶¶ 3-4; Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 3-4.
February 2014, Plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the FBI
seeking information related to its investigation of
Plaintiff's disclosures to WikiLeaks. Pl.'s Stmt.
¶ 6; Defs.' Resp. ¶ 6; Defs.' Mot. for
Summ. J., ECF No. 12 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot.], Ex. A,
ECF No. 12-2 [hereinafter FOIA Request]. In March 2014,
following the FBI's response that Plaintiff's request
was insufficiently detailed for it to conduct an accurate
search, Plaintiff submitted a modified request seeking two
categories of documents: (1) records related to the
investigation conducted by the FBI, the DOJ Counterespionage
Section, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern
District of Virginia “into the alleged disclosures of
classified and sensitive . . . information by then- Private
First Class (PFC) Bradley Edward Manning (a.k.a. Chelsea
Elizabeth Manning)”; and (2) records related to the
investigation of “suspected or alleged civilian
co-conspirators of the disclosures alleged to have been
conducted by Manning.” Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶
7-8; Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 7- 8; Defs.' Mot., Ex.
B, No. 12-3, at 2; Defs.' Mot., Ex. C, ECF No. 12-4, at
April 8, 2014, in response to the first part of
Plaintiff's request, the FBI conducted a search of its
Central Records System using Plaintiff's name and
variations of her name. Defs.' Stmt. of Material Facts,
ECF No. 12-16 [hereinafter Defs.' Stmt.], Defs.'
Stmt. ¶ 7; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Stmt., ECF No.
14-7 [hereinafter Pl.'s Resp.], ¶ 7; Defs.'
Mot., Decl. of David M. Hardy, ECF No. 12-1 [hereinafter
Hardy Decl.], ¶ 30. The FBI did not, however, conduct a
separate search pursuant to the second part of
Plaintiff's request-for records related to others-because
the FBI believed any documents responsive to the first part
of Plaintiff's request would be responsive to the second
part. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 9;
Hardy Decl. ¶ 32. That same day, the FBI denied
Plaintiff's FOIA request, informing Plaintiff that the
records responsive to her request were exempt from disclosure
under FOIA Exemption 7(A). Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 11;
Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 11; Defs.' Mot., Ex. F, ECF No.
12-7, at 2; Hardy Decl. ¶ 11. Exemption 7(A) protects
“records or information compiled for law enforcement
purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such
law enforcement records or information could reasonably be
expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” 5
U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A).
appealed the FBI's denial of her request to the DOJ
Office of Information Policy. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 14;
Defs.' Resp. ¶ 14; Defs.' Mot., Ex. K, ECF No.
12-12 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot., Ex. K]. The Office of
Information Policy affirmed the denial and advised Plaintiff
that she could file a lawsuit in federal district court
and/or request mediation services offered by the Office of
Government Information Services (“OGIS”) at the
National Archives and Records Administration. Defs.'
Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 16; Defs.' Mot.,
Ex. K. Plaintiff requested mediation through the OGIS in
January 2015, and OGIS replied via letter in February 2015,
reaffirming the FBI's decision that Exemption 7(A)
applied to her request. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 16-17;
Defs.' Resp. ¶ 16-17; Defs.' Mot., Ex. L, ECF
No. 12-13; Defs.' Mot., Ex. N, ECF No. 12-15 [hereinafter
Defs.' Mot., Ex. N]. OGIS suggested Plaintiff file a new
FOIA request in the future “to see if 7(A)'s
protections have been lifted.” Defs.' Mot., Ex. N.
Plaintiff then filed suit in this court on October 8, 2015.
Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1.
shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows 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). To make this determination, the court
must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in
the light most favorable to the [non-moving] party.”
Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (internal
quotation mark omitted). A dispute is “genuine”
only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving
party, and a fact is “material” only if it is
capable of affecting the outcome of litigation. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A
non-material factual dispute cannot prevent the court from
granting summary judgment. Id. at 249.
FOIA cases are appropriately decided on motions for summary
judgment. See Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Border
Patrol, 623 F.Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 2009). A court may
award summary judgment in a FOIA case by relying on the
agency's affidavits or declarations if they are
“relatively detailed and non-conclusory, ”
SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200
(D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted), and if
they describe “the documents and the justifications for
nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate
that the information withheld logically falls within the
claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either
contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad
faith, ” Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656
F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981). The court affords such
declarations “substantial weight” if they meet
these requirements. Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dep't of
Def., 715 F.3d 937, 940- 41 (D.C. Cir. 2013).
agency bears the burden of demonstrating that a FOIA
exemption applies, and its determinations are subject to de
novo review in district court. U.S. Dep't of Justice
v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S.
749, 755 (1989) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)). To
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the agency must
demonstrate that “each document that falls within the
class requested either has been produced, is unidentifiable,
or is wholly exempt from the Act's inspection
requirements.” Goland v. Cent. Intelligence
Agency, 607 F.2d 339, 352 (D.C. Cir. 1978); see also
Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257
F.3d 828, 833 (D.C. Cir. 2001).
“[t]he focus of FOIA is information, not documents . .
. an agency cannot justify withholding an entire document
simply by showing that it contains some exempt
material.” Mead Data Cent., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't
of Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 260 (D.C. Cir. 1977). FOIA
therefore requires that “[a]ny reasonably segregable
portion of [the] record shall be provided to any person
requesting such record after deletion of the portions which
are exempt.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). An agency must
provide a “detailed justification” and not just
make “conclusory statements” to support its
segregability determination. Mead Data Cent., 566
F.2d at 261. Agencies, however, “are entitled to a
presumption that they complied with the obligation to
disclose reasonably segregable material, ” which can be
overcome by contrary evidence produced by the requester.
Sussman v. U.S. Marshals Serv., 494 F.3d 1106, 1117
(D.C. Cir. 2007).