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Jackson v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 8, 2017




         In this Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) case, the defendants United States Department of Justice and Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy (“OIP”) have filed a motion for summary judgment that is ripe for decision. The Court will grant the motion for the reasons set forth below.


         This case concerns FOIA requests by plaintiff Dominique Jackson seeking documents that were used in a criminal proceeding against him. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] at 1-3. Specifically, on May 24, 2013, plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice seeking “a copy of the Title III interception of wire, oral, and electronic communication approval letters order, applications and all other documents that are a part of the electronic surveillance” of two specific phone numbers listed on the request. Compl. Ex. B-2 [Dkt. # 1-5] (“FOIA Request”).

         The Criminal Division responded to the FOIA Request by letter dated July 29, 2013. Compl., Ex. B-1 [Dkt. # 1-4] (“Response Letter”); see also Decl. of Peter C. Sprung [Dkt. # 12-1] (“Sprung Decl.”) ¶ 7 and Ex. B, attached to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 12]. It stated that any records responsive to plaintiff's request were exempt from disclosure pursuant to FOIA Exemption 3, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). Response Letter (explaining that the requested materials were exempted from release by statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-20, Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, so the division did not conduct a search for records). The Response Letter advised plaintiff of his right to appeal the decision to the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Policy (“OIP”). Id.

         On August 28, 2013, plaintiff appealed to OIP, Compl. Ex. C; Sprung Decl. ¶ 8 & Ex. C, and on December 30, 2013, OIP affirmed the decision to withhold the records pursuant to FOIA Exemption 3. Compl. Ex. D; Sprung Decl. ¶ 9 & Ex. D.

         On February 10, 2014, plaintiff filed this lawsuit pro se. Compl. at 1-3. He alleged that in an April 4, 2013 detention hearing in the Western District of Pennsylvania, “officers and attorneys of the DOJ disclosed, played, and did enter into evidence in the court proceeding contents of a Title III wire intercept that were alleged to belong to, or involved the plaintiff.” Compl. ¶ 2, citing Compl. Ex. A.

         On August 19, 2014, defendants filed the motion for summary judgment now pending before the Court. Mot. for Summ. J. and Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. [Dkt. # 12] (“Def.'s Mem.”). Notwithstanding its initial decision to withhold the documents plaintiff requested under Exemption 3 of FOIA, the agency conduced a search for responsive documents. Sprung Dec. ¶¶ 11-20, Att. 1 to Def.'s Mem.; Vaughn Index, Ex. F to Sprung Decl. It searched the two records systems it considered likely to contain the information requested by plaintiff: (a) the database used to track federal prosecutors' requests for permission to apply for court-authorization to intercept conversations of persons allegedly involved in criminal activity under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (“the Title III request tracking system”); and (2) the database containing archived emails of Criminal Division employees that are maintained by its information technology department (“Enterprise Vault”). Sprung Decl. ¶¶ 11-20.

         The agency then prepared a Vaughn Index identifying the responsive documents located through its searches. Sprung Decl. ¶ 21 and Ex. F. The Vaughn Index shows that the agency withheld most of the records located under FOIA Exemption 3, and other documents pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 5, 6, and 7(C), 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(3), (5), (6) and 7(C). Vaughn Index, Ex. F.

         After defendants filed their motion for summary judgment, the Court issued an order on August 28, 2014 advising plaintiff of defendants' motion, ordering him to respond by October 13, 2014, and reminding him that failure to do so “may result in the district court granting the motion and dismissing the case.” Order [Dkt. # 13], quoting Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d 507, 509 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

         Thereafter, plaintiff requested and was granted a number of extensions of time to respond to the motion because he was trying to obtain trial transcripts that he considered relevant to this case and his opposition to the motion. See, e.g., Mot. for Extension of Time [Dkt. # 16] ¶ 7 (stating that the transcripts would show “that all information that I seek has entered into the public domain or has been officially acknowledged”); Mot. for Extension of Time [Dkt. # 21]; Mot. for Extension of Time [Dkt. # 22].

         On June 5, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion to stay the case because after reviewing transcripts that he considered relevant to this matter, he “realized that the Title III wire intercepts were not transcribed” and that he was preparing a motion to correct the record. Mot. to Stay [Dkt. # 23] at 2. He requested a stay and permission to file monthly status reports “to keep this court informed about the transcription of the audio recordings into the transcript.” Id. The Court granted the motion to stay. Min. Order of Jun. 11, 2015.

         While the case was stayed, plaintiff filed an number of status reports. His status report of March 29, 2017 advised the Court that his conviction had been “confirmed and on [F]ebruary 27, 2017, the appeals court denied [his] motion to correct the record” as it related to the transcripts he sought for this case. Status Rep. [Dkt. # 32].

         In light of this status report, the Court lifted the stay on April 19, 2017 and ordered plaintiff to respond to defendants' motion for summary judgment by May 17, 2017, reminding him that if he failed to respond, the Court could grant the motion and dismiss the case. Order [Dkt. # 33], citing Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d 507. Plaintiff requested an extension of that deadline. Mot. for Extension [Dkt. # 34]. The Court granted him an extension ...

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