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Buholtz v. United States Marshals Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 16, 2017

Kenneth Buholtz, Plaintiff,
v.
United States Marshals Service, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Kenneth Buholtz, proceeding pro se, brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) against the United States Marshals Service (“USMS” or Defendant), [1] seeking medical, phone, and disciplinary records created during his incarceration at a USMS contract facility in Fannin County, Texas. 5 U.S.C. § 552. Defendant now moves for summary judgment, asserting that the documents Plaintiff seeks are not in its possession.

         Based on the parties' submissions and the record evidence, the court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         From June 2011 to March 2013, Plaintiff was a prisoner at the Fannin County Detention Center, which operates as a contract facility for USMS. Compl., ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶ 4.01; Mem. in Supp. of Def's Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 7, at 6-12 [hereinafter Def's Mem.], at 1, 6. On June 19, 2014, Plaintiff sent a request to USMS seeking all records pertaining to him. Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 7, at 2-5 [hereinafter Def's Stmt.], ¶ 1; Pet's Opp. to Summ. J., ECF No. 10 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp.], at 1. The June 2014 FOIA Request is nowhere mentioned in Plaintiffs Complaint-and thus does not appear to be a subject of this action-but the court discusses it by way of background.[2]

         USMS conducted a search for records, which yielded 51 pages of material. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 2-4; Decl. of William Bordley, ECF No. 7-1 [hereinafter Bordley Decl.], ¶¶ 4, 6; Bordley Decl., Ex. A, ECF No. 7-2, at 1-2. On July 16, 2014, USMS released 50 pages of material to Plaintiff-33 pages in full and 17 pages with some information withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 7(C) and 7(E), which protect from disclosure certain law enforcement records. Bordley Decl. ¶ 6; Bordley Decl., Ex. C, ECF No. 7-2 [hereinafter Bordley Decl., Ex. C], at 4-7; 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). The remaining page originated with the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA) and was referred to that agency for a response to Plaintiffs request. Bordley Decl. ¶ 6; Bordley Decl., Ex. C. When it turned over the records, USMS advised Plaintiff that he could appeal USMS' partial denial to the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy within 60 days. Id.

         Plaintiff, however, filed his appeal on October 8, 2014, after the 60-day period expired. Bordley Decl. ¶ 7; Bordley Decl., Ex. D, ECF No. 7-2, at 8. Thereafter, the Office of Information Policy denied Plaintiffs appeal as untimely. Bordley Decl. ¶¶ 7-8; Bordley Decl., Ex. E. ECF No. 7-2 [hereinafter Bordley Decl., Ex. E], at 10. In its letter denying the appeal, the Office of Information Policy instructed Plaintiff, “you are free to make a new request to USMS for any records that you might wish to receive.” Bordley Decl., Ex. E, at 10.

         Heeding that invitation, Plaintiff filed a series of follow-on FOIA requests starting in January 2015. On January 12, 2015, he sought from USMS his inmate phone account records and disciplinary records from the period he was held at the Fannin County Detention Center. Bordley Decl. ¶¶ 9-10; Bordley Decl., Ex. F, ECF No. 7-2 [hereinafter Bordley Decl., Ex. F], at II. USMS advised Plaintiff that “[t]he records you seek are under the jurisdiction of Fannin County” and “to direct your request to the appropriate agency in that facility.” Bordley Decl., Ex. G, ECF No. 7-2, at 12.

         Apparently unsatisfied with that response, Plaintiff submitted additional requests for the same records in April and June 2015, which USMS treated as duplicate requests and took no action. Bordley Decl. ¶¶ 11-12; Bordley Decl., Exs. H & I, ECF No. 7-2 at 13-14. Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this court on May 19, 2016. See Compl.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Most 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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendant seeks summary judgment on a simple ground-it does not possess the records that Plaintiff seeks. Def.'s Mem. at 6. It contends that, if the records are to be found anywhere, they would be in the possession of the state or local agency that operates the Fannin County Detention Center. Id. Plaintiff responds that Defendant's lack of physical possession of the records does not absolve it of the obligation to produce them. Pl.'s Opp. at 3-5. As he puts it, because the Fannin County Detention Center was a USMS contract ...


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