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Sadler v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 23, 2019

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


          Timothy J. Kelly, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Justin Sadler, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has sued Defendants Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for allegedly misclassifying him as a sex offender. But for the reasons below, Sadler has failed to state a claim for some of the causes of action in his complaint, and the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the others. The Court will therefore dismiss the complaint in its entirety.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Sadler alleges that Defendants have improperly classified him in prison databases as a sex offender even though he “has not been convicted of such an offense.” ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) at 1. This classification is one of various Public Safety Factors (PSFs) that prison officials may assign to an inmate whose “current offense, sentence, criminal history or institutional behavior . . . requires additional security measures be employed to ensure the safety and protection of the public.” BOP Program Statement P5100.08, Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification, ch. 5 at 7 (Sept. 12, 2006), According to Sadler, his sex-offender PSF limits certain of his privileges and puts his safety at risk. See Compl. at 1. Sadler alleges that he “asked [Defendants] to remove the false classification from his files, ” but they “failed to do so.” Id. at 2.

         Sadler sued Defendants in July 2018. Id. His complaint pleads causes of action under (1) the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a; (2) the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552; and (3) the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Id. at 1–2. He seeks compensatory damages “in an amount commensurate with the Privacy Act, ” an injunction compelling Defendants to remove his sex-offender PSF, and a declaratory judgment that he “is legally innocent of any previously charged or indicted offenses with underlying allegations of sexual misconduct.” Id. Defendants moved to dismiss Sadler’s complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). ECF No 13-1 (“Mot.”). Sadler opposed their motion, and Defendants replied. See ECF No. 16 (“Opp’n”); ECF No. 17.

         II. Legal Standards

         In considering a motion to dismiss under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), a court must “treat a complaint’s factual allegations as true . . . and must grant a plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). When a plaintiff proceeds pro se, a district court must “consider his filings as a whole before dismissing a complaint, ” Schnitzler v. United States, 761 F.3d 33, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2014), because pro se complaints are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Nevertheless, the Court need not draw inferences in favor of a plaintiff, pro se or otherwise, if those inferences are not supported by the facts alleged. See Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), a plaintiff must establish that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. In considering whether a plaintiff has met this standard, “the Court ‘may only consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice.’” Hiligh v. Sands, 389 F.Supp. 3d 69, 72 (D.D.C. 2019) (quoting Gustave–Schmidt v. Chao, 226 F.Supp.2d 191, 196 (D.D.C. 2002)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Privacy Act

         Sadler first alleges a cause of action under the Privacy Act. See Compl. at 2. That statute “regulates the ‘collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information’ about individuals by federal agencies.” Wilson v. Libby, 535 F.3d 697, 707 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Doe v. Chao, 540 U.S. 614, 618 (2004)). Sadler does not specify how Defendants violated the Privacy Act by including the sex-offender PSF in his records.[1] But his claim fails for reasons other than that lack of specificity.

         BOP regulations exempt all records contained in its Inmate Central Records System from Privacy Act obligations. 28 C.F.R. § 16.97(j). And PSFs are housed within the Inmate Central Records System. See Program Statement P5100.08, ch. 5 at 7; BOP Program Statement 5800.17, Inmate Central File, Privacy Holder, and Parole Mini-Files, at 17 (Apr. 3, 2015), Accordingly, as numerous courts have held, PSFs are exempted from the Privacy Act as a matter of law. See, e.g., Harrison v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 248 F.Supp. 3d 172, 180–81 (D.D.C. 2017). As the court in Harrison explained:

“[a]ll information pertaining to a prisoner’s security level and custody classification is maintained in the Inmate Central Records System, ” and that system of records is exempt from the provisions of the Privacy Act on which Harrison relies. Vaden v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 79 F.Supp. 3d 207, 212 (D.D.C. 2015) (quotations and alterations omitted); see 5 U.S.C. § 552a(j)(2) (authorizing the exemption); see also 28 C.F.R. § 16.97(j) (the exemption itself). The BOP’s Program Statement on Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification explains that PSFs are normally applied at intake on the inmate’s BP–337 form, and may then be amended through the use of Form BP–338. See Program Statement P5100.08, ch. 5 at 7. And the Program Statement on the Inmate Central Records System explicitly states that forms BP–337 and BP–338 reside on that system. See Program Statement 5800.17 at 15–17. In fact, that system appears to house all inmate records related to sentencing, PSFs, housing, custody classification, security designations, and the like. See Id . The Court, accordingly, must join numerous other courts in holding, as a matter of law, that the Privacy Act subsections (d)(1), (e)(5), (f), and others afford inmates and former inmates no cause of action regarding such records.

Id. Sadler argues that Defendants have produced “no evidence” showing that the relevant records are housed within the Inmate Central Records System. Opp’n at 3. But as the Harrison court explained, under BOP policy that is where all information pertaining to Sadler’s security level and custody classification is kept, and Sadler suggests no reason for the Court to doubt that is the case here. Sadler cannot state a claim under the Privacy Act because the records at issue are ...

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