United States District Court, District of Columbia
LONNIE J. PARKER, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY, Defendant.
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
like the story arc of a classic horror flick, the cast of
disputed documents in this Freedom of Information Act reel
has now been whittled down to one. Plaintiff Lonnie J. Parker
initially requested records relating to the Government's
discipline of a former Assistant United States Attorney in
the Eastern District of Arkansas, who was caught prosecuting
cases without a valid bar license. Defendant Department of
Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility responded
by identifying all relevant records, releasing some,
withholding most (in part or in full), and referring still
others to separate DOJ components - including the Executive
Office for U.S. Attorneys - for processing. The Court's
prior Opinion largely upheld those release decisions, but
found that OPR had not explained the legal bases for
withholdings made following the EOUSA referral. Defendant has
since clarified that area of confusion.
with that explanation, Parker turns to one final issue in
this latest round of summary-judgment briefing. He points out
that a letter from the EOUSA production is lacking its
attachment. Despite OPR's retort that the attachment is
both non-responsive and exempt from disclosure, the Court
finds that Defendant must segregate and release a few
paragraphs. Each side's Motion will thus be granted in
part and denied in part.
the prior Opinion sets forth the background, the Court skims
over the bulk of the case's particulars. See Parker
v. DOJ, 214 F.Supp.3d 79, 82-83 (D.D.C. 2016). Broadly
speaking, this FOIA action pertains to Parker's request
for records “regarding any investigation or
consideration of disciplinary actions involving the
unauthorized practice of law by former Assistant U.S.
Attorney Lesa Gail Bridges Jackson.” ECF No. 23-1
(Revised Third Declaration of Ginae Barnett), Exh. D (FOIA
Request) at 1.
OPR initially neither confirmed nor denied that there was
information pertaining to Bridges Jackson's bar-lapse
discipline, the agency later decided to search for and
release records. Parker, 214 F.Supp.3d at 83. It
identified roughly 250 pages of responsive material,
releasing some in their entirety, withholding (in part or in
full) the majority, and referring the remainder to EOUSA and
other DOJ components for processing. Id.;
see Third Barnett Decl., ¶ 8.
Court resolved several issues relating to this production in
its earlier Opinion. Relevant here, it held that OPR had
properly withheld portions of four challenged documents under
FOIA Exemption 7(C) - which protects the privacy of
individuals mentioned in law-enforcement records - and that
no further material could be meaningfully segregated and
released. See Parker, 214 F.Supp.3d at 85-89. As to
56 pages of documents referred to EOUSA, however, the Court
found that OPR had improperly omitted “a description of
the specific legal bases for EOUSA's withholdings.”
Id. at 90.
has now offered explanations for EOUSA's decisions in a
renewed Motion for Summary Judgment. See ECF No.
39-2 (Declaration of David Luczynski), Exh. C (EOUSA
Vaughn Index). Parker has responded with his own
the Court reaches the dénouement of this case
- regarding a missing attachment from an already-produced
letter - it quickly disposes of two of the parties'
preliminary arguments. First, following the Government's
new explanations, Parker no longer challenges its withholding
of the 56 pages of EOUSA materials at issue last time.
See Def. Reply at 2-3; see also Parker, 214
F.Supp.3d at 90-91. Second, Plaintiff initially argues that
OPR should have searched harder for the aforementioned
attachment. See Pl. Mot. at 5-9. It turns out,
however, that Defendant did look for the document after
Parker prodded the agency to do so and, in fact, found it.
See ECF No. 42-1, (Fifth Declaration of Ginae
Barnett), ¶ 6. Plaintiff thus rightfully concedes that
his “prior search objections, pertaining to
Defendant's failure to perform this follow-up action,
ha[ve] now been addressed.” Pl. Reply at 5 & n.4.
This search-adequacy challenge, too, can now be put to rest.
lone surviving dispute, therefore, is whether OPR should
produce that attachment - a document that was appended to a
previously disclosed cover letter from U.S. Attorney Paula
Casey found among the EOUSA records. See ECF No.
28-1 (Fourth Declaration of Ginae Barnett), Exh. A (EOUSA
Response) at OPR-41 (May 26, 2000, Letter from Paula J.
Casey, U.S. Att'y, E.D. Ark., to H. Marshall Jarrett,
Counsel, OPR) at 1. The Casey Letter is addressed to the head
of OPR and asks for his input on a five-day suspension of
Bridges Jackson that was recommended “for reasons set
forth in the enclosed draft letter.” Id. That
attachment, which the Court has reviewed in camera,
is a draft letter to Bridges Jackson proposing such a
suspension for conduct entirely unrelated to bar licensure.
the attachment be released? Answering this question involves
examining, as an initial matter, whether it is responsive to
Plaintiff's request and, next, if FOIA exemptions apply
to all or parts of the document.
threshold inquiry is whether the draft document attached to
the Casey Letter is even responsive to Parker's FOIA
request. In other words, the statute only compels disclosure
“once an agency identifies a record it deems responsive
to a FOIA request.” Am. Immigration Lawyers
Ass'n v. Exec. Office for Immigration Review, 830
F.3d 667, 677 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Not so with non-responsive
materials. While Plaintiff asked for all records regarding
Bridges Jackson's bar-lapse discipline, the attachment,