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Hunter Mathis v. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2018

ERIC JEROME HUNTER MATHIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court in this case, which was brought under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment. See ECF No. 28 (“Motion”).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the Motion in its entirety.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Eric Jerome Hunter Mathis, incarcerated in a state prison in Georgia and proceeding pro se, alleges in his complaint that he has been “deprived of his lawful property and rights as a United States citizen.” Compl. ¶ 3. Specifically, he alleges that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is “holding [his] personal and real property[, ] personal papers, childhood photo[]s and effect[s] not excluding trust fund[] accounts[, ] his patent information, financial accounts (personal, bus[]iness, checking, co[r]porate, and escrow), ” id. ¶ 4, “inherited assets, ” id. ¶ 5, and benefits he accrued while “working two nine to fives and managing [his] own brake repair shop, ” id. ¶ 6. He contends that DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”) have frozen his bank accounts. See id. ¶¶ 7-8.

         In October 2015, Hunter Mathis began his quest for information about his assets by submitting a request to the FBI under FOIA. See id. ¶¶ 8, 13. DOJ and the FBI allegedly “refused [his] request” and failed to explain “why [his] accounts remain . . . frozen after so much time has passed with no criminal or civil action in the matter.” Id. ¶ 7. According to Hunter Mathis, DOJ and the FBI not only denied his FOIA requests improperly, see id. ¶¶ 7-9; Am. Compl. ¶ 12, but in so doing, also violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution, see Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16-18; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-22. He demands a declaratory judgment “that the acts and omission[s] . . . described [in the complaint] violated plaintiff[']s rights under the Constitution, ” Compl. ¶ 20, and injunctive relief “enjoin[ing] Defendant from withholding the information requested, ” id. ¶ 21.

         As his subsequent amended complaints reflect, Hunter Mathis then expanded his search for information by allegedly directing FOIA requests to several other entities: the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), a component of the Department of Treasury (“Treasury”), see 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 10, the Department of Defense (“DoD”), see id. ¶¶ 7, 11; 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 31, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), see 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 27, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, see id. ¶¶ 18, 28, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), see id. ¶¶ 19, 29, and the American Red Cross, see id. ¶ 30. The Court is obliged to construe a pro se litigant's pleadings liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). To this end, the Court construes Hunter Mathis's various complaints collectively, and as raising FOIA claims against each of these entities.

         II. Analysis

         A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         For the reasons explained below, the Court will dismiss Hunter Mathis's (1) constitutional claims; (2) claim against the Middle District of Georgia; and (3) claim against the American Red Cross.

         1. Hunter Mathis's Constitutional Claims

         Although Hunter Mathis alleges violations of his rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, see Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16-18; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-22; 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 33, he clarifies elsewhere that “this is not a 1983 suit[] or[] civil rights complaint, ” Pl.'s 1st Opp'n at 4; Pl.'s 2d Opp'n ¶ 26. In fact, the claims he brings are grounded in FOIA, and it is well settled that “FOIA does not offer a remedy for alleged violations of constitutional rights arising from the handling of a FOIA request.” Houser v. Church, 271 F.Supp.3d 197, 204 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing Johnson v. Exec. Office for U.S. Attorneys, 310 F.3d 771, 777 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). The Court therefore dismisses Hunter Mathis's constitutional claims, which similarly arise from the processing of his FOIA requests. See, e.g., Johnson, 310 F.3d at 777; Sanchez-Alanis v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 270 F.Supp.3d 215, 219 (D.D.C. 2017).

         2. FOIA Claim Against the Middle District of Georgia

         Hunter Mathis asserts that the Middle District of Georgia “refused to disclose the freezing of [his] accounts and assets in 1996 or 2003.” 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 28. A claim under FOIA may proceed only as against an agency of the federal government. 5 U.S.C. §§ 551(1), 552(a); see 5 U.S.C. § 552(f). The definition of “agency” expressly excludes “the courts of the United States.” 5 U.S.C. § 551(1)(B). Thus, Hunter Mathis's FOIA claim against the Middle District of Georgia must be dismissed. See Gaydos v. Mansmann, No. 98-5002, 1998 WL 389104, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 13, 1998) (per curiam); United States v. Choate, 102 Fed.Appx. 634, 635 (10th Cir. 2004).

         3. FOIA Claim Against the American Red Cross

         Hunter Mathis claims to have “donated over a billion dollars” to the American Red Cross. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 30. Despite such generosity, the American Red Cross allegedly “refused plaintiff['s] request for information” about his contributions. Id. A threshold issue the Court must resolve to address this claim is whether the American Red Cross is an “agency” for the purpose of FOIA. Although the D.C. Circuit has not addressed the issue, the Ninth Circuit concluded in Irwin Memorial Blood Bank of S.F. Med. Soc'y v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross, 640 F.2d 1051 (9th Cir. 1981) that it is not. See id. at 1052, 1057. The Court finds that opinion persuasive and similarly concludes that the American Red Cross is not an “agency” for FOIA purposes. Thus, the Court dismisses Hunter Mathis's FOIA claim against the American Red Cross.[2]

         B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Hunter Mathis's FOIA claims that survive Defendants' motion to dismiss are directed at: (1) IRS, DoD, SEC, and SSA; and (2) the FBI. The Court considers each in turn and concludes that summary judgment must be granted in favor of each Defendant.

         1. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must 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). “Summary judgment is appropriately granted when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movants and drawing all reasonable inferences accordingly, no reasonable jury could reach a verdict ...


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