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Burke v. Executive Office of United States Attorneys

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 20, 2018

ROBERT BURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EMMET G. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, appearing pro se, challenged in a 57-count complaint the responses of several Department of Justice components, as well as those of the Internal Revenue Service and the National Archives and Records Administration, to his sweeping requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and the Privacy Act. On March 30, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment to the defendants, except as to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (“FBI”) withholding of information from its June 15, 2015 release and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys' (“EOUSA”) referral of records to the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”). See Mem. Op. and Order (“Mem. Op. 1”) [Dkt. # 50]. Pending is the renewed motion of EOUSA and the FBI for summary judgment [Dkt. # 54]. For the reasons explained below, the motion will be granted.

         A. EOUSA-Referred Records

         EOUSA's referral was in response to plaintiff's request for records containing “the name Joan Markman, Esquire, ” of whom plaintiff had provided proof of death. Mem. Op. 1 at 4. EOUSA properly referred “Memorandums of Interviews” to USPIS, see Mem. Op. 1 at 4, 26-27, but the Court could not determine which entity, EOUSA or USPIS, had released responsive records, when it occurred, and what exactly was released. Id. at 27. EOUSA has now shown that USPIS released all of the 34 referred documents to plaintiff on February 17, 2016, after redacting third-party identifying information-save Markman's-under FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). Decl. of Kimberly Mungin ¶¶ 8-9 [Dkt. # 54-4]; see also Decl. of Kimberly Williams ¶¶ 5-7 [Dkt. # 31-12]. The Court has previously approved the withholding of similar information under Exemption 7(C), and it applies the same reasoning to USPIS's redactions. See Mem. Op. 1 at 23-24. As a result, EOUSA is now entitled to summary judgment on all claims.

         B. FBI Records

         On June 30, 2015, the FBI informed plaintiff that it had processed 130 responsive records. It released 102 pages, 94 of which contained redactions, and withheld 28 pages in full. Second Decl. of David M. Hardy ¶ 5 [Dkt. # 54-1]. The FBI withheld information under FOIA exemptions 3, 6, 7(C), 7(D) and 7(E), id. ¶ 23, but it no longer relies on Exemption 7(E), id. ¶ 4 & n.1. The FBI referred 21 of the 28 withheld pages to the USPIS, which, in turn, released the pages to plaintiff by letter of September 21, 2015, with third-party information properly redacted pursuant to FOIA exemptions 6 and 7(C). See Decl. of Tammy A. Warner ¶¶ 6, 12-16 [Dkt. # 54-3].

         1. FOIA Exemption 3

         Exemption 3 covers records that are “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute, ” provided that such statute either requires withholding from the public “in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue or . . . establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3); see Senate of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 823 F.2d 574, 582 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         The FBI invokes Exemption 3 in conjunction with Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which regulates the disclosure of matters before a grand jury. Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 26-27. In this circuit, the grand jury exception is limited to material which, if disclosed, would “tend to reveal some secret aspect of the grand jury's investigation, such . . . as the identities of witnesses or jurors, the substance of testimony, the strategy or direction of the investigation, the deliberations or questions of jurors, and the like.” Senate of Puerto Rico v. United States Dep't of Justice, 823 F.2d 574, 582 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         The FBI withheld the names of recipients of grand jury subpoenas, save that of murder victim Donna Willard, and “specific categories of information that the grand jury subpoenaed as part of its investigation.” Second Hardy Decl. ¶ 27; see Mem. Op. 1 at 2 (recounting plaintiff's conviction for the murder of federal witness Donna Willard). The declarant explains that if disclosed, such information “would reveal the inner workings of the grand jury; the direction that the grand jury was taking; and the focus and scope of its investigation by identifying who the grand jury believed had relevant information, and by revealing the information it was seeking in furtherance of its investigation.” Second Hardy Decl. ¶ 27. Plaintiff has not contested the FBI's justifications, which the Court found proper in assessing similar withholdings by EOUSA. See Mem. Op. 1 at 19-20. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted to the FBI on its Exemption 3 withholdings.

         2. FOIA Exemption 7(C)

         The FBI invokes the FOIA's personal privacy exemptions, 6 and 7(C), but the Court, having determined that the records were compiled for law enforcement purposes, need not address the former since the latter applies to the same records. See Mem. Op. 1 at 22-23 (citing Roth v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 642 F.3d 1161, 1173 (D.C. Cir. 2011)). The FBI withheld under Exemption 7(C) the names and/or identifying information of various categories of individuals, including FBI special agents and support personnel, other federal government employees, persons of “investigative interest, ” persons “merely mentioned, ” local and state law enforcement personnel, persons who provided information, and persons with criminal records or rap sheets. Second Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 32-40. The declarant has adequately explained the potential harm in disclosing such information. See id. Plaintiff has neither contested the FBI's valid justifications nor produced any evidence to trigger consideration of an overriding public interest. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted on the FBI's Exemption 7(C) withholdings for the reasons stated in the initial ruling. See Mem. Op. 1 at 23-24.

         3. FOIA Exemption 7(D)

         FOIA Exemption 7(D) protects from disclosure those records or information compiled ...


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