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Pinson v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 29, 2018

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et. al, Defendants.




         Pro se Plaintiff Jeremy Pinson (“Pinson”), an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, began this case by filing a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) complaint in December 2016. Pinson now files three motions for preliminary injunction, and in the alternative seeks the appointment of counsel. Pinson asks this Court to enjoin the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) from withholding court filings, denying access to e-mail communications and the law library, failing to provide stamps, and disseminating information to other inmates. Pinson separately asks the Court to require the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to respond to a particular FOIA request in compact disc format. The Court denies the motions for preliminary injunction because Pinson has not shown that she will be irreparably harmed in the absence of a preliminary injunction or is likely to succeed on the merits. Pinson has also failed to show that the appointment of counsel is justified.


         Pinson, together with two other individuals now no longer a part of this action, initially filed a complaint in December 2016 against the DOJ and the Central Intelligence Agency (“Defendants”). See Pl.'s Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1. After Pinson was denied leave to proceed in forma pauperis, she petitioned the D.C. Circuit for a writ of mandamus in March 2017. See In re: Jeremy Pinson, 17-5039, ECF No. 1664975 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 7, 2017). On February 21, 2018, the D.C. Circuit remanded the matter back to this Court after it granted Pinson's petition. See Circuit Court Order, ECF No. 3.

         In her complaint, Pinson alleged that Defendants violated FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552, after she submitted a “dozen” FOIA requests to seven entities and did not receive a response within the time frame provided under the statute.[1] See Pl.'s Compl. at 1-2. Pinson further claimed that the BOP's Office of Internal Affairs maintained documents and e-mails containing false conclusions and information about Pinson that the CIA refused to allow her to contest. See Id. at 2. Pinson requested the release of the records and correction of the false information. Id.

         On May 11, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss Pinson's complaint. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss and Mot. for More Definite Statement at 1, ECF No. 9-1. Defendants pointed to Pinson's inability to identify the subject matter or dates of the FOIA requests, and to the lack of any indication as to what information about her was purportedly false. Id. at 2. Pinson filed an amended complaint on June 22, 2018, which added alleged violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702, and First and Eighth Amendments. See Pl.'s First Am. Compl. at 1, ECF No. 16.

         Pinson filed her first motion for preliminary injunction on May 29, 2018, alleging that DOJ employees have not given her any filings in the case; have blocked an e-mail address that she used to access records and research needed to amend her complaint,; and have been disseminating information to a fellow inmate about a Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) investigation involving her, in violation of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. See Pl.'s First Mot. for Preliminary Inj. (“Pl.'s First Mot.”) at 1, ECF No. 11; First Decl. of Jeremy Pinson (“First Pinson Decl.”) ¶ 3, ECF No. 11. Pinson requests that the Court “enjoin (i) continued withholding of mail relating to [the] litigation[, ] (ii) continued blockage of engaging in legal activities with, (iii) disseminating contents of agency files to Tyreise Swain.” Pl.'s First Mot. at 2.

         Defendants state in their opposition to Pinson's first motion that they first learned Pinson had not received a copy of the Defendants' motion to dismiss on May 31, 2018. See Decl. of Brian Field (“Field Decl.”) ¶ 5, ECF No. 12-1. Defendants argue that notices from the court or the United States Attorney's Office to Pinson are not tracked and therefore that it is impossible to fully determine whether she receives legal mail. See First Decl. of Clinton Stroble (“First Stroble Decl.”) ¶ 8, ECF No. 12-2; Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s First Mot. for Preliminary Inj. (Defs.' First Opp'n) at 4, ECF No. 12. Defendants, however, assert that Pinson was delivered a copy of all docket entries in the case to “[her] current incarceration location” on June 7, 2018.[2] Field Decl. ¶ 7; Defs.' First Opp'n at 2.

         Furthermore, Defendants argue that an Administrative Remedy Report produced by the BOP reflects that Pinson submitted 78 grievance requests at the BOP's Institutional, Regional, or Central Office levels from June 2017 to June 2018, but none expressed a concern about not receiving filings regarding her FOIA case or access to e-mail services. See First Stroble Decl. ¶¶ 4-5; Defs.' First Opp'n at 6. Defendants also argue that Pinson's ability to e-mail was terminated after the BOP learned that representatives from were sending messages to third parties on inmates' behalf in violation of BOP monitoring procedures. See First Stroble Decl. ¶ 9; Defs.' First Opp'n at 6.

         On June 11, 2018, Pinson filed her second motion for preliminary injunction, and in the alternative, sought the appointment of counsel. Pl.'s Second Mot. for Preliminary Inj. and Mot. to Appoint Counsel (“Pl.'s Second Mot.”), ECF No. 13. Pinson requests that the Court enjoin DOJ from depriving her of stamps needed to mail items to the court and of the ability to “send legal mail or [access] a law library terminal during lengthy lockdowns.” Id. at 3. Pinson states that during a ten-day lockdown period from May 25, 2018 to June 4, 2018, no one provided her with any postage despite her requests, no one came to pick up her outgoing legal mail, and all out-of-cell movement was suspended. See Second Decl. of Jeremy Pinson (“Second Pinson Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 13.

         Defendants oppose Pinson's second motion on similar grounds to her first motion. See Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Second Mot. for Preliminary Inj. (“Defs.' Second Opp'n”), ECF No. 17. In response to Pinson's alleged inability to access the law library terminal during prison lockdowns, Defendants argue that although inmates are not allowed to access the law library during lockdowns, they are permitted to request materials from the library. See Second Decl. of Clinton Stroble (“Second Stroble Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 17-1; Defs.' Second Opp'n at 4. While Pinson's prison is no longer on lockdown status, Defendants insist that a BOP employee had personally picked up mail from her during the previous lockdown. See Second Stroble Decl. ¶ 4; Defs.' Second Opp'n at 5. Defendants also contend that Pinson was provided ten postage stamps during the previous lockdown, pursuant to a general policy that inmates are permitted twenty stamps for legal mail and five stamps for social mail monthly. See Second Stroble Decl. ¶ 4; Defs.' Second Opp'n at 5. Defendants assert that Pinson has no pending administrative appeal regarding her claims for access to legal mail, lack of stamps, or use of the inmate law library. See Defs.' Second Opp'n at 5.

         On August 27, 2018, Pinson filed her third motion for preliminary injunction. Pl.'s Third Mot. for Preliminary Inj. (“Pl.'s Third Mot.”), ECF No. 21. Pinson asks that the Court require the BOP to supply the production of documents in FOIA No. 2017-01605 in compact disc format. Id. at 1. Defendants incorporate their grounds for opposition to Pinson's first two motions in their opposition to her third motion. See Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Third Mot. for Preliminary Inj. (“Defs.' Third Opp'n”), ECF No. 23. Defendants argue that Pinson seeks relief beyond that available through a preliminary injunction. Id. at 1.

         The three motions for preliminary injunction, and the motion for appointment of counsel, are now before this Court.


         A. Preliminary Injunction

         “[A] preliminary injunction is an injunction to protect [the] plaintiff from irreparable injury and to preserve the court's power to render a meaningful decision after a trial on the merits.” Select Milk Producers, Inc. v. Johanns, 400 F.3d 939, 954 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting 11A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedures § 2947 (2d ed. 1992)). “[T]he decision to grant injunctive relief is a discretionary exercise of the district court's equitable powers.” John Doe Co. v. Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, 235 F.Supp.3d 194, 201 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Sea Containers Ltd. v. Stena AB, 890 F.2d 1205, 1209 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy, ” and one is “never awarded as of right.” Winter v. Nat'l Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008).

         To warrant preliminary injunctive relief, the moving party “must establish that [it] is likely to succeed on the merits, that [it] is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of the equities tips in [its] favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Id. at 20. Of these factors, likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm are particularly crucial. See Sherley v. Sebelius, 644 F.3d 388, 393 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (reading Winter “to suggest if not to hold ‘that a likelihood of success is an independent, free-standing requirement for a preliminary injunction'”) (quoting Davis v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 571 F.3d 1288, 1296 (2009) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring)); Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England, 454 F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (“[A] movant must demonstrate at least some injury for a preliminary injunction to issue, for the basis of injunctive relief in federal courts has always been irreparable harm.”).

         B. Appointment of Counsel

         While a civil litigant is not guaranteed counsel, see Gaviria v. Reynolds, 476 F.3d 940, 943 (D.C. Cir. 2007), federal courts are authorized by statute to “request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1); accord Willis v. FBI, 74 F.3d 531, 532 (D.C. Cir. 2001). “The district court judge controls the ‘discretionary' decision of whether to appoint counsel, and that decision ‘will be set aside only for abuse.'” Pinson v. DOJ, 273 F.Supp.3d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Willis, 74 F.3d at 532). Local ...

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