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Anderson v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 13, 2018



          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Melvin Anderson, a federal prisoner appearing pro se, brought this action to compel the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP” or “the Bureau”) to produce various documents under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). The Bureau has since released responsive records and moved for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 15. Anderson has not opposed the motion. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the Bureau has shown its compliance with the FOIA and is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


         In response to the complaint filed on March 3, 2018, BOP “concedes” that Plaintiff's FOIA request “was received by BOP's Central Office” but “was not entered into BOP's FOIAXpress” tracking system. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Facts”) ¶ 8, ECF No. 15-2.[1] So on June 19, 2018, BOP began processing Anderson's request, id. ¶ 6, which sought

several categories of records: a) Records concerning Incident Report Number 2824067; b) Records concerning his custody classification to include records concerning his increase in custody classification and rationale for his 409 transfer; c) a certificate of completion of a photography class/training course; and d) records concerning a Request for Administrative Remedy that Plaintiff identified as Remedy Appeal No. 877399-A1.

Id. ¶ 9; see Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. The Bureau searched files maintained by (1) its Designation and Sentence Computation Center, (2) the National Inmate Appeals Administrator, (3) Hazelton United States Penitentiary in West Virginia (Plaintiff's current location), and (4) the United States Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida (Plaintiff's prior location). See Facts ¶¶ 11-18. The Bureau also requested staff at USP Coleman “to search its records and some individual staff members to search their records, either electronic or hard copy[.]” Id. ¶ 12. BOP located 57 responsive pages. Id. ¶ 19.

         The Bureau released nine unredacted pages and 30 redacted pages to Anderson; it withheld 18 pages. Information was withheld under FOIA exemptions 6, 7(C), 7(E) and 7(F), codified in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). Def.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 15-3 (Determination Letter).

         On August 23, 2018, the Bureau filed the pending motion for summary judgment, supported by the Stroble Declaration and a Vaughn Index, ECF No. 15-5.[2] On August 30, 2018, the Court advised Anderson of his obligation to respond to the Bureau's motion and warned of the consequences if he failed to respond by October 4, 2018. See Order, ECF No. 16. Anderson has neither responded or requested additional time to do so, thereby leaving the Bureau's motion uncontested.


         FOIA requires federal agencies to “disclose information to the public upon reasonable request unless the records at issue fall within specifically delineated exemptions.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. FBI, 522 F.3d 364, 365-66 (D.C. Cir. 2008); see also 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A) (records sought must be “reasonably describe[d]”). In FOIA cases, the district court reviews the record de novo, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), and views the facts and draws all inferences “in the light most favorable to the requester.” Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

         The “vast majority” of FOIA cases can be decided on motions for summary judgment. See Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade Representative, 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). When, as here, a motion is uncontested, the Court still must “state on the record the reasons for granting or denying” it. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Winston & Strawn, LLP v. McLean, 843 F.3d 503, 505 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (finding the burden rests with the movant to show why summary judgment is warranted; consequently, the district court “must always determine for itself whether the record and any undisputed material facts justify granting summary judgment”) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). To prevail on summary judgment, the movant must show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986).

         In the FOIA context, an agency must prove that no material facts are in dispute, that it has conducted an adequate search for responsive records, and that each responsive record has either been produced to the requestor or is exempt from disclosure. See Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 627 F.2d 365, 368 (D.C. Cir. 1980). To establish an adequate search, an agency can submit a “reasonably detailed affidavit, setting forth the search terms and the type of search performed, and averring that all files likely to contain responsive materials (if such records exist) were searched.” Oglesby v. U.S. Dep't of the Army, 920 F.2d 57, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1990). Although agency declarations are given “a presumption of good faith, ” SafeCard Servs. Inc. v. S.E.C., 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991), they must also describe the agency's search with “specificity.” Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press & Assoc. Press v. FBI, 877 F.3d 399, 403 (D.C. Cir. 2017).

         Agencies also have the burden of demonstrating that the withheld document falls into one of the enumerated exemptions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); see also Natural Res. Defense Council, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 216 F.3d 1180, 1190 (D.C. Cir. 2000). This includes providing a sufficiently detailed description of the exemption, the portion(s) of documents to which it applies, and justification as to why the exemption is relevant, so that the district court can conduct a de novo review of the agency's determination. See Church of Scientology ...

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