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Amin v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 10, 2019

SALEEM EL AMIN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Saleem El Amin, a federal inmate, requested his education records from his prison. Several months later, when he had not received those records, he filed the instant pro se complaint under the Privacy Act. The government then provided the records to him and moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the action was moot. El Amin opposed the motion but has not contested the government's representation that he has now received all the records he sought. The Court will therefore dismiss the complaint as moot and, for the reasons explained below, deny El Amin's motion for costs without prejudice.

         I. Background

         El Amin requested his education records through an email addressed to a “Ms. Workman” in his prison's education department. ECF No. 1 Ex. 1. His email read, in its entirety, “I would like to view my education records and receive a copy for [my] files.” Id. He subsequently filed an administrative claim with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., alleging that the BOP violated the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, by failing to provide him his records. ECF No. 1 App'x. The BOP denied his claim because the Privacy Act is a federal statute, and the Federal Tort Claims Act concerns only the government's liability under state law. Id.

         In March 2018, El Amin brought this suit under the Privacy Act, alleging that the BOP had violated his right to access his education records. ECF No. 1 at 3. In addition to access to the records themselves, he requested $1, 000 in damages from the United States.[1] Id. at 4. In November 2018, before the government appeared, El Amin moved for it to pay his litigation costs. ECF No. 6. In May 2019, after the government appeared but before it responded to El Amin's complaint, it provided El Amin all the relevant records. See ECF No. 14 Ex. A. The next month, it moved to dismiss his complaint, arguing that the case was moot.[2] ECF No. 14. at 1-2. In El Amin's opposition to the motion to dismiss, he does not contest that he received all the records he requested. See ECF No. 16 at 2. He does, however, renew his demand for $1, 000 in damages. Id.

         II. Analysis

         A. Government's Motion to Dismiss

          Article III courts have jurisdiction only over “actual cases or controversies.” Indian River Cty. v. Rogoff, 254 F.Supp.3d 15, 18 (D.D.C. 2017). Mootness deprives courts of subject-matter jurisdiction, because there is no remaining “actual case or controversy” to adjudicate. See Conservation Force, Inc. v. Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1204 (D.C. Cir. 2013). As a result, a “motion to dismiss for mootness is properly brought under Rule 12(b)(1) because mootness itself deprives the court of jurisdiction.” Indian River Cty., 254 F.Supp.3d at 18. A request for records under the Privacy Act is moot once a plaintiff receives “all the records responsive to his requests that are in the [agency's] possession, custody, or control.” Crummey v. Social Sec. Admin., 794 F.Supp.2d 46, 60 (D.D.C. 2011). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under 12(b)(1), “a court may consider material other than the allegations of the complaint in determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case, as long as it still accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true.” W.Va. Highlands Conservancy v. Johnson, 540 F.Supp.2d 125, 133 (D.D.C. 2008). Because El Amin is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his filings liberally. Cunningham v. Dep't of Justice, 40 F.Supp.3d 71, 82 (D.D.C. 2014).

         El Amin received his Inmate Education Data Transcript-that is, his education records in the custody of the BOP-in April 2019. ECF No. 14-1 Exs. A, B. The government contends that these are all the records El Amin requested, ECF No. 14 at 1, and El Amin does not argue otherwise, ECF No. 16 at 2. The Court therefore treats this argument as conceded. Inst. for Policy Studies v. CIA, 246 F.R.D. 380, 386 n.5 (D.D.C. 2007) (“[W]here a party files an opposition to a motion and addresses only certain arguments raised by the movant, this court routinely treats the unaddressed arguments as conceded pursuant to Local Rule 7(b).”). Because El Amin has received all the records at issue, his request for them is moot, and the Court will dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.[3]

         B. El Amin's Motion for Costs

         Shortly after filing his complaint, El Amin moved for the government to “pay litigation cost[s] for invasion of privacy, ” citing 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(2)(B). ECF No. 6 at 2. He requested $300. Id. The Privacy Act authorizes the Court to award a plaintiff litigation costs in connection with a claim, such as El Amin's, that the government failed to comply with an individual request to access a record, if the plaintiff has “substantially prevailed” in the litigation. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(3)(B). But on this record, the Court must deny his motion without prejudice. Even assuming that El Amin has “substantially prevailed” in this case, [4] a plaintiff must provide documentation of his litigation costs to recover them. Blazy v. Tenet, 194 F.3d 90, 97-98 (D.C. Cir. 1999). El Amin has provided no such documentation. See ECF No. 6 at 2 (requesting $300, without further explanation); ECF No. 16 at 2 (requesting “court fees” without specifying an amount). For these reasons, the Court will deny El Amin's motion for costs without prejudice.

         III. Conclusion

         For all these reasons, the Court will grant the government's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) and deny without prejudice El Amin's Motion to Pay ...


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