Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Winn v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 6, 2019

H. RICHARD WINN, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN D. BATES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff H. Richard Winn brought this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, against defendant Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking documents responsive to three FOIA requests he submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The government has since released responsive documents to Winn but has withheld some materials as exempted from disclosure. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the DOJ's motion for summary judgment will be granted and Winn's cross-motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Winn is a physician and neurosurgeon who served as the chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine from 1983 until 2002. Decl. of David M. Hardy (“Hardy Decl.”) [ECF No. 15-2] ¶ 5. In 1999, FBI officials began investigating claims for medical services performed by the department's faculty that were submitted to Medicare and Medicaid. Plea Agreement at 4, United States v. H. Richard Winn, No. 2:02-cr-00235-RSL-1 (W.D. Wash. July 16, 2002), ECF No. 3. Winn was charged with obstructing this investigation, and he ultimately pled guilty to that charge in 2002. Id. at 1, 16.

         Thirteen years later, on March 30, 2015, Winn submitted a FOIA request to the FBI to obtain files to use in his memoirs. See Ex. A to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“2015 Request”) [ECF No. 15-3] at 2;[1] Pl.'s P. & A. in Supp. of His Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. & Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mot. & Opp'n”) [ECF No. 16-1] at 2. He asked for “[his] own FBI files” and provided names under which the files might be found. 2015 Request at 2. He also included Form DOJ-361, which certified his identity so that the agency could release his own records to him. Id. at 4; see 28 C.F.R. § 16.3 (requiring requester seeking “records about himself” to verify his identity). Three days later, the FBI acknowledged receipt of the request and advised Winn that it had initiated a search for responsive records. Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts (“Def.'s Stmt.”) [ECF No. 15] ¶ 2; Ex. B to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 15-3] at 6.

         In July 2015, the FBI informed Winn that it had “located approximately 4000 pages of records potentially responsive to the subject of [his] request, ” which it identified as “Winn, Herbert Richard.” Ex. D to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 15-3] at 10. It reminded Winn that 4000 pages was only an estimate, and that “some information may not be responsive to [his] subject” and “some of the information may be withheld in full pursuant to FOIA / Privacy Act exemption(s).” Id. In a separate letter, the FBI also advised him that processing of his request would be delayed because of the volume of the records and because the FBI would need to consult with or collect records from other FBI or agency offices. Ex. C to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF No. 15-3] at 8.

         Eight months passed without any further information from the FBI. See Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 3; Pl.'s Mot. & Opp'n at 2. Winn then sent a second FOIA request to the FBI on March 22, 2016, again stating that he was “writing to obtain [his] own FBI files, ” and attaching Form DOJ-361. Ex. F to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“2016 Request”) [ECF No. 15-3] at 16-18. In this request, he also explained that he was “seeking any and all files related to the investigation of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, WA . . . beginning in 1990.” Id. at 16. Winn stated that he had “made the same request” one year prior. Id.

         Another year passed, and on March 9, 2017, Winn submitted a third FOIA request to the FBI. Ex. H to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“2017 Request”) [ECF No. 15-3] at 23. He again requested “[his] own FBI files, ” and explained that he was “seeking any and all files related to the investigation of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, WA . . . beginning in 1990.” Id. at 24.

         On May 5, 2017, Winn filed the instant lawsuit seeking the release of all records responsive to his three FOIA requests. Compl. [ECF No. 1] at 6. Two months later, the Record / Information Dissemination Section (“RIDS”) of the FBI conducted a search for responsive records using the names Winn had provided and located one investigative file. Hardy Decl. ¶ 25. This file pertained to the relevant investigation into Winn, but also included information pertaining to other suspects in the investigation. Id. ¶¶ 25 & n.5. The FBI only processed records in the file that related to its investigation of Winn. Id. ¶ 25 n.5. In total, the FBI determined that 915 of the originally estimated 4000 pages were responsive to Winn's requests. Id. ¶ 4.

         Between August 31, 2017, and December 29, 2017, the FBI released 619 pages of records in full or in part. Id. ¶¶ 4, 15-18. The FBI also withheld 296 pages in full, citing statutory exemptions that permit FOIA materials to be withheld because they were compiled for law enforcement purposes, identify confidential sources, are grand jury materials, or are personnel, medical, or other personally-identifying materials. Id. ¶¶ 4, 32, 34-61 (citing Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) and 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(3), (6), (7)(C), (7)(D), (7)(E)).

         The government then filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that it had conducted an adequate search for responsive records and had now produced all non-exempt, non-segregable records responsive to Winn's requests. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”) [ECF No. 15] at 1.[2] Winn responded in opposition and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. In doing so, he conceded that the FBI's search for the investigative file was adequate and that it had properly invoked applicable FOIA exemptions to withhold information. See Pl.'s Mot. & Opp'n at 1, 3 & n.1. However, he argued that he actually sought all records within the investigative file, not just his records, and that the FBI improperly narrowed the scope of his requests by excluding the majority of the records within the file. Id. at 3-6. He also contended that although the FBI's search for the investigative file was adequate, the FBI did not establish that it had conducted an adequate search for responsive records within the investigative file. Id. at 6 n.4. Finally, Winn argued that that the government did not establish that it had released all reasonably segregable non-exempt information. Id. at 6-7. The parties' motions are now fully briefed and ripe for consideration.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of the record, including affidavits or declarations, which it believes can demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must “view the facts and draw reasonable inferences ‘in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.'” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citation and alteration omitted). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of its position. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). “Summary judgment is warranted if the plaintiff has failed to ‘present affirmative evidence . . . to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.'” Durant ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.