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Pronin v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 1, 2019

DMITRY PRONIN, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Dmitry Pronin, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this suit against Defendant Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552. See ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”). Specifically, Plaintiff challenges Defendant's decision to withhold as exempt lists of the names of staff members who work at three BOP facilities where Plaintiff has been incarcerated. See Id. at 5-6; ECF No. 1-1 at 5-6; ECF No. 26 (“Pl.'s Opp.”) at 2.[1]

         Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 24 (“MSJ”). In Plaintiff's complaint, he does not clarify which of the several FOIA requests he has made over the past several years-and which portions of those requests- are the subject of this action. Accordingly, in its motion, Defendant attempts to address all six of Plaintiff's prior FOIA requests by making broad, wholesale arguments as to each that it conducted adequate searches, properly withheld or redacted responsive information under the applicable exemptions, and otherwise released any segregable information. Id. In his response, however, Plaintiff explains that he solely challenges Defendant's refusal to disclose staff lists for three BOP facilities. See Pl.'s Opp. at 2.

         Defendant, apparently content to rest on its initial filing, never filed a reply. But its motion falls well short of justifying summary judgment as to the three staff lists Plaintiff has identified. Accordingly, and for the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion will be denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff, a prisoner currently in BOP custody, submitted six FOIA requests to Defendant between February 2016 through October 2017. See ECF No. 24-2 (“Rodgers Decl.”) at 2-8. On September 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking the release of documents withheld by Defendant in responding to those requests. See Compl. Though Plaintiff did not specify in his complaint the particular request or requests at issue, he clarified in his responses to Defendant's motion that he is only challenging Defendant's decision to withhold the names and positions of employees at three BOP facilities: the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) located in Florence, Colorado; the United States Penitentiary (USP) and FCC located in Terre Haute, Indiana; and the FCC located in Beaumont, South Carolina. See Pl.'s Opp. at 1-2, 6, 8; ECF No. 29 (“Pl.'s Supp. Opp.”) at 3, 5. Accordingly, only two of Plaintiff s FOIA requests-Request No. 2016-02619 and Request No. 2017-05599-are at issue here.[2] See ECF No. 24-1 (“Def.'s Stmt. Facts”) at 1-6; Rodgers Decl. at 2-8.

         A. Plaintiff's FOIA Request No. 2016-02619

         Defendant received Request No. 2016-02619 on February 19, 2016. Rodgers Decl. ¶ 4. The request sought, among other records, (1) “[t]he complete list of employees of FCC ‘Florence, '” (2) the “[f]ull name of Physician Assistant Justillano, who was, until 2014, employed by [BOP] at USP ‘Terre Haute, '” and (3) “[t]he complete list of employees of USP/FCC ‘Terre Haute.'” ECF No. 24-3, Att. 1. On July 22, 2016, Defendant responded by informing Plaintiff that, in response to the entirety of his request, it had identified 149 pages of responsive records and was releasing 93 pages in full and 7 partial pages but withholding 49 pages in full. Rodgers Decl. ¶ 4; ECF No. 24-3, Att. 2. According to BOP, “[m]ost of the pages withheld in full were lists of the names of BOP staff members.” Rodgers Decl. ¶ 4. In the letter, Defendant generally cited FOIA Exemptions 2, 6, 7(C), 7(E), and 7(F) as the bases for its withholdings. Id. (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)). Plaintiff appealed that response to the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy, which resulted in BOP's release on March 21, 2017, of an additional five pages, though the record does not indicate what information those pages contain. Def.'s Stmt. Facts ¶ 3; Rodgers Decl. ¶ 4.

         B. Plaintiff's FOIA Request No. 2017-05599

         Defendant received Request No. 2017-05599 on June 26, 2017. Rodgers Decl. ¶ 9. The request sought, among other records, a “full and complete list of workers of FCC Beaumont.” ECF No. 24-3, Att. 9. On July 28, 2017, Defendant responded by informing Plaintiff that, in response to the entirety of his request, it had identified 53 pages of responsive records and was releasing 41 pages in full and 12 partial pages. Rodgers Decl. ¶ 9; ECF No. 24-3, Att. 10. Defendant cited FOIA Exemptions 6, 7(C), and 7(F) for any redactions. ECF No. 24-3, Att. 10 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)). As to Plaintiff's specific request for a complete staff list for FCC Beaumont, Defendant stated that FOIA did not require it to “create lists, ” only to “provide BOP generated documents, ” and thus it stated that there were no responsive documents to that request. ECF No. 24-3, Att. 10. It does not appear that Plaintiff administratively appealed this request.

         C. Defendant's January 2018 Letter to Plaintiff

         On January 18, 2018, and after Plaintiff had commenced this action, Defendant sent a letter to Plaintiff further supplementing its responses to both Request No. 2016-02619 and Request No. 2017-05599. See ECF No. 24-3, Att. 4. Regarding the former request, Defendant stated that it was re-releasing a single page with fewer redactions, but that it would continue to redact other information under FOIA Exemptions 6, 7(C), and 7(F). Id. Regarding the latter request, Defendant also stated that it would release additional pages, with some redactions remaining pursuant to Exemptions 6, 7(C), and 7(F). Id. And as to Plaintiff's specific requests for complete lists of staff members at FCC Beaumont and two other facilities not at issue in this action, Defendant stated that it would release the names of the wardens at those facilities because doing so “appear[ed] to outweigh any interest of privacy that those individuals may have, but that with regard to staff members junior to those wardens, . . . their privacy interests, and safety interests attendant to their identities, appear[ed] to outweigh any public interest in the release of their names.” Id.

         D. Defendant's Motion

         On June 22, 2018, Defendant filed its motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.[3] In arguing that it is entitled to summary judgment, Case 1:17-cv-01807-TjK Document 33 Filed 03/01/19 Page 5 of 14 Defendant asserts that it conducted an adequate search for responsive records, that it properly withheld the disputed information under Exemptions 2, 6, 7(C), and 7(F), and that it complied with FOIA's segregability requirement. See MSJ at 4-15. In support of its motion, Defendant also submitted a Vaughn Index describing its withholdings. See ECF No. 24-4 (“Vaughn Index”). Plaintiff filed two responses opposing Defendant's motion, the second after the Court afforded Plaintiff an opportunity to supplement his first response. See Pl.'s Opp.; Pl.'s Supp. Opp. Plaintiffs principal argument in both filings is that because Defendant allegedly released a list of names and ...


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