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Roble v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 21, 2018




         Plaintiff, appearing pro se, challenges the Executive Office for United States Attorneys' (“EOUSA”) denial of his request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and the Privacy Act. The Department of Justice, of which EOUSA is a component, has moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (ECF No. 10). For the reasons explained below, the motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 11, 2016, Plaintiff requested copies of “Grand jury minutes (transcripts) taken on November 6th 2013” pertaining to his criminal indictment in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (Decl. of Vinay J. Jolly, ECF No. 10-1, Ex. A). Such records “were originally maintained in the criminal case United States v. Roble, No. 13-CF1-6095.” (Jolly Decl. ¶ 9). Plaintiff wrote that he had “been provided with several other transcripts from the grand jury . . . taken on April 17, 19, 24th, May 10, 15 and 16th, 2013 prepared by your Office.” (Jolly Decl., Ex. A).

         By letter of November 22, 2016, EOUSA denied Plaintiff's request on the erroneous premise that he had sought third-party records. (Id., Ex. B). Plaintiff appealed to the Office of Information Policy (“OIP”), which accurately described the request as seeking “access to grand jury minutes from [Plaintiff's] criminal case recorded on November 6, 2013” but nonetheless affirmed EOUSA's denial “on modified grounds.” (Id., Ex. E). OIP explained: “To the extent that the specific grand jury records that you seek exist, any such records would be protected from disclosure pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3), ” which “concerns matters specifically exempted from release by a statute other than the FOIA[, ]” (Ex. E). OIP cited “Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which pertains to the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.” (Id.). It stated that because any responsive records “would be categorically exempt from disclosure, EOUSA was not required to conduct a search for the requested records.” (Id.). OIP advised Plaintiff of his right to file this lawsuit, which commenced on April 19, 2017.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where the record shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002). “FOIA cases typically and appropriately are decided on motions for summary judgment.” Georgacarakos v. FBI, 908 F.Supp.2d 176, 180 (D.D.C. 2012) (citation omitted). The district court conducts a de novo review of the government's decision to withhold requested documents under any of FOIA's specific statutory exemptions. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). The burden is on the government agency to show that nondisclosed, requested material falls within a stated exemption. See Petroleum Info. Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 976 F.2d 1429, 1433 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)).

         In FOIA cases, summary judgment may be based solely on information provided in the agency's supporting declarations. See ACLU v. U.S. Dep't of Def., 628 F.3d 612, 619 (D.C. Cir. 2011); Students Against Genocide v. Dep't of State, 257 F.3d 828, 838 (D.C. Cir. 2001). The D.C. Circuit instructs:

If an agency's affidavit describes the justifications for withholding the information with specific detail, demonstrates that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and is not contradicted by contrary evidence in the record or by evidence of the agency's bad faith, then summary judgment is warranted on the basis of the affidavit alone.

ACLU, 628 F.3d at 619. “Ultimately, an agency's justification for invoking a FOIA exemption is sufficient if it appears ‘logical' or ‘plausible.'” Id. (quoting Larson v. Dep't of State, 565 F.3d 857, 862 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted)). “To successfully challenge an agency's showing that it complied with the FOIA, the plaintiff must come forward with ‘specific facts' demonstrating that there is a genuine issue with respect to whether the agency has improperly withheld extant agency records.” Span v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 696 F.Supp.2d 113, 119 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Dep't of Justice v. Tax Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 142 (1989)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         1. Privacy Act

         Defendant asserts correctly that disclosure of the requested records is not required under the Privacy Act because the criminal files of the United States Attorneys' Offices have been properly exempted from that Act's access provisions. (See Def.'s Mem. at 4-5, ECF No. 10) (citing Jolly Decl. ¶ 10 and 5 U.S.C. § 552a (j)(2)). Because the Privacy Act excepts from its coverage documents required to be disclosed under the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(2), EOUSA duly proceeded “under the provisions of the FOIA.” (Jolly Decl. ¶ 11).

         2. ...

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