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Goldstein v. Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 29, 2017

RICHARD H. GOLDSTEIN, Plaintiff,
v.
TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMIT P. MEHTA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case, once more, requires the court to assess Defendant Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's (“TIGTA”) response to Plaintiff Richard H. Goldstein's Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request for records collected and created during a TIGTA investigation of certain Internal Revenue Service employees. Before the court are (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Judgment Under Rule 60(b), which asks the court to reverse its prior rulings in favor of Defendant in this matter based on the unearthing of purportedly “newly discovered” evidence, and (2) the parties' second round of cross-motions for summary judgment. After reviewing the voluminous briefing in this case, the court finds that (1) Plaintiff's newly discovered evidence does not warrant relief under Rule 60(b); (2) Defendant appropriately relies on FOIA Exemption 3 to withhold some responsive records, but continues to fall short on its invocation of Exemption 7(C); and (3) Defendant has satisfied its obligation to review and release any segregable material within the responsive records. Accordingly, the court denies Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Judgment Under Rule 60(b), grants Defendant's Second Motion for Summary Judgment as to its invocation of Exemption 3 and its segregability determination, but denies it as to Exemption 7(C), and denies Plaintiffs Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Because this decision and the court's earlier decision, taken together, resolve all issues concerning Plaintiffs FOIA Request in favor of Defendant, the court now enters final judgment for Defendant.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Much ink already has been spilled over Plaintiff Richard H. Goldstein's FOIA requests- both in this case and in its companion case, Goldstein v. IRS, No. 14-2186 (D.D.C.)-for records relating to his conduct as a whistleblower for the IRS. The court therefore assumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying factual and procedural history of both cases and recites only what is necessary to resolve the narrow issues that remain.

         In this case, Plaintiff asked Defendant Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) to produce records collected and created during a TIGTA investigation of certain Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) employees. Specifically, Plaintiffs FOIA request seeks:

Any and all information or investigative material that may have come to light as a result of a completed TIGTA investigation(s) regarding attorney Timothy Driscoll, and/or Special Agents, Mark Hammond and/or Scott French and their interactions with attorneys David Capes and/or [another of Plaintiffs lawyers] from 2006 through 2010 concerning the reporting of potential tax crimes by various individuals and/or firms.

Am. Compl., ECF No. 12 [hereinafter Am. Compl.], 38; Am. Compl., Ex. 2, ECF No. 12-2 [hereinafter FOIA Request]. TIGTA located the requested investigative files, but refused to produce them on the grounds that they are exempt from disclosure in full under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), and in part under FOIA Exemptions 3 and 5. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss & Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 19, Mem. in Supp., ECF No. 19-1 [hereinafter Def.'s First Mot.], at 8-19.

         Following the parties' first round of summary judgment briefing, the court found that (1) Plaintiff had conceded the adequacy of Defendant's search for responsive records; (2) Defendant had properly invoked and withheld responsive records under FOIA Exemption 6, as the records in question contained the personal information of IRS employees whose privacy interests outweighed the public's interest in disclosure; and (3) Defendant had not properly invoked FOIA Exemption 7(C) because the agency had failed to demonstrate that the records in question were “compiled for law enforcement purposes.” See Goldstein v. Treasury Inspector Gen. for Tax Admin. (TIGTA I), 172 F.Supp.3d 221, 229-35 (D.D.C. 2016). The court did not reach Defendant's invocation of Exemptions 3 and 5. Ultimately, however, the court declined to grant summary judgment in full in favor of Defendant, because it had not sufficiently shown that it had released all reasonably segregable, non-exempt portions of the responsive records withheld pursuant to Exemption 6. In other words, Defendant had not demonstrated that Exemption 6 justified withholding the responsive documents in full. The court thus remanded the matter for a further segregability review.

         In the current round of briefing, the parties again dispute whether TIGTA complied with the requirements of FOIA. Defendant moves for summary judgment on the familiar grounds that (1) it properly withheld the investigative files under Exemption 7(C) in full and under Exemptions 3 and 5 in part, and (2) it complied with its obligation to release any reasonably segregable material. See Def.'s Second Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 39 [hereinafter Def.'s Second Mot.], at 4-12. Plaintiff, for his part, advances a multi-pronged attack. First, Plaintiff moves the court to vacate its partial entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, based primarily on two “newly discovered” pieces of “game changing” evidence that he obtained through FOIA requests not at issue in this litigation. See Pl.'s Mot. for Relief from J. Under Rule 60(b), ECF No. 53 [hereinafter Pl.'s Rule 60(b) Mot.], at 2, 10-13; Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Pl.'s Rule 60(b) Mot., ECF No. 67 [hereinafter Pl.'s Rule 60(b) Reply], at 10- 13. Additionally, Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment, challenging the propriety of Defendant's claimed exemptions, as well as its segregability analysis. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Second Mot., ECF No. 56 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opp'n]; Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 55. Now ripe for consideration, the court turns to the parties' motions.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         Plaintiff moves for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(2) and Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 60(b)(2) provides that a court may relieve a party from a final judgment or order based on “newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(2). In order for evidence to meet the requirements of Rule 60(b)(2), the following criteria must be met:

(1) the evidence must have been in existence at the time of trial; (2) the evidence must be such that it was not and could not by the exercise of due diligence have been discovered in time to present it in the original proceeding; (3) the evidence must not be merely cumulative or impeaching; and (4) the evidence must be admissible and credible, and of such a material and controlling nature as will probably change the outcome.

In re Korean Air Lines Disaster of September 1, 1983, 156 F.R.D. 18, 22 (D.D.C. 1994). Thus, to qualify for relief in the present context, Plaintiff must not have been able to discover the evidence prior to the court's entry of partial summary judgment.

         Rule 60(b)(6), on the other hand, is a “catch-all provision” that allows a court to grant a party relief from an order for “any other reason that justifies relief.” Lightfoot v. District of Columbia, 555 F.Supp.2d 61, 70 (D.D.C. 2008); Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). However, “[t]he Supreme Court has consistently held that Rule 60(b)(6) motions should only be granted in ‘extraordinary circumstances.'” Jarvis v. Parker, 13 F.Supp.3d 74, 80 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 199 (1950)). The D.C. Circuit has added that Rule 60(b)(6) “should be only sparingly used.” Good Luck Nursing Home v. Harris, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

         B. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         Courts are to 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 marks omitted). A dispute is “genuine” only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party, and a fact is “material” only if it is capable of affecting the outcome of litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A non-material factual dispute must not prevent the court from granting summary judgment. See Id. at 248-50.

         Most FOIA cases are appropriately decided on motions for summary judgment. See Defs. 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 information included in 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 describe “the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and ...


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