United States District Court, District of Columbia
BRANDON C. SCHNEIDER, Plaintiff,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.
L. FRIEDRICH JUDGE
Schneider brings this suit alleging that the Department of
Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) unlawfully withheld
records in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C.
§ 552a, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5
U.S.C. § 552. Before the Court is the government’s
Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. 7, and Schneider’s
Cross Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. 12. For the reasons
that follow, the Court will grant the governmentâs motion and
deny Schneiderâs cross motion.
February 2016, OPM initiated a background check on Schneider
for a Summer Chaplain Internship at Fort Belvoir Community
Hospital. See Compl. ¶ 13, Dkt. 1. The
background check process revealed that, in 2005, an
individual whom OPM believed to be Schneider admitted to
certain actions during a law enforcement interview.
See Brewer Decl. Ex. D, Dkt. 7-4. Although Schneider
denies these allegations, he was removed from parish ministry
and is unable to return. See id.
October 2017, Schneider submitted a request under FOIA and
the Privacy Act to OPM’s National Background
Investigation Bureau, the department that oversees background
investigations, for a copy of all material related to the
alleged incident. Brewer Decl. ¶¶ 3–4, Dkt.
7-2; see also Id . Ex. A, Dkt. 7-4. OPM provided him
with a redacted copy of his file and referred several records
to the FBI. Id. ¶¶ 5, 7–9, 11.
Schneider then appealed, requesting specific information
about the 2005 interview, including the date and location of
the interview, how the interviewee was identified, the name
of the agent who conducted the interview, and the
interviewee’s address and contact information,
signature, and statement of admission, id. Ex. D,
but his appeal was denied, id. ¶ 18. In
December 2017, Schneider also contacted the FBI directly and
submitted a request under FOIA and the Privacy Act asking for
information regarding the 2005 incident. See First
Hardy Decl, Ex. G & H, Dkt. 7-5.
response to these requests, the FBI searched the Central
Records System, the principal database in which the FBI
indexes information about subjects of investigative interest.
First Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 19, 27–28, Dkt.
7-3; see also Third Hardy Decl. ¶ 18, Dkt. 21.
In total, the FBI reviewed 24 pages of responsive records and
released 10 pages in full or in part to Schneider. First
Hardy Decl. ¶ 4. The FBI invoked FOIA Exemptions 6,
7(C), and 7(E) and Privacy Act Exemption (j)(2) to justify
its withholdings and redactions. See id.
February 28, 2018, Schneider filed the instant action.
See Compl. He does not challenge OPM’s search
or the FBI’s use of FOIA Exemptions 6 or 7(C) to
justify redacting and withholding documents, see
Pl.’s Br. at 3, n.1, Dkt. 12; nor does he appear to
contest the FBI’s use of Privacy Act Exemption (j)(2),
see id. at 3–7. Schneider only challenges the
adequacy of the FBI’s search and its use of FOIA
Exemption 7(E) to justify redacting and withholding
documents. See id.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates that
“[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). A “material” fact
is one with the potential to change the substantive outcome
of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is
“genuine” if a reasonable jury could determine
that the evidence warrants a verdict for the nonmoving party.
See Id . All facts and inferences must be viewed in
the light most favorable to the requester, and the agency
bears the burden of showing that it complied with the
applicable legal standard. See Reeves v. Sanderson
Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Chambers
v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, 568 F.3d 998, 1003
(D.C. Cir. 2009). If “material facts are genuinely in
issue or, though undisputed, are susceptible to divergent
inferences bearing upon an issue critical to disposition of
the case, summary judgment is not available” to the
agency. Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. EPA, 856 F.2d
309, 314 (D.C. Cir. 1988). That said, courts in this
jurisdiction recognize that “the vast majority of FOIA
cases can be resolved on summary judgment.” Brayton
v. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 641 F.3d
521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
Privacy Act and FOIA are structurally similar. Londrigan
v. FBI, 670 F.2d 1164, 1169 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Both
provide a requester with access to federal agency records
about the requester and create a private cause of action when
an agency fails to comply with a valid request. See
5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(d)(1), (g)(1) (Privacy Act); 5
U.S.C. §§ 552(a)(3)(A), (a)(4)(B) (FOIA). If agency
searches reveal records responsive to a Privacy Act or FOIA
request, an agency may withhold access to the records if the
statutes exempt them from disclosure. See 5 U.S.C.
§§ 552a(j)(2), (k)(2); 5 U.S.C. § 552(b).
the Privacy Act and FOIA “substantially overlap,
” the statutes “are not completely coextensive;
each provides or limits access to material not opened or
closed by the other.” Greentree v. U.S. Customs
Serv., 674 F.2d 74, 78 (D.C. Cir. 1982). Accordingly,
“[t]he two acts explicitly state that access to records
under each is available without regard to exemptions under
the other.” Martin v. Office of Special Counsel,
Merit Sys. Prot. Bd., 819 F.2d 1181, 1184 (D.C. Cir.
1987). This means that, when both statutes are at play, an
agency seeking to withhold records must “demonstrate
that the documents fall within some exemption under
each Act.” Id. (emphasis in
original). “If a FOIA exemption covers the documents,
but a Privacy Act exemption does not, the documents must be
released under the Privacy Act; if a Privacy Act exemption
but not a FOIA exemption applies, the documents must be
released under FOIA.” Id.
courts . . . rely on government affidavits to determine
whether the statutory obligations” have been met.
Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C. Cir. 1982)
(per curiam). The agency’s affidavits are accorded a
presumption of good faith, Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v.
CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981), and
“[s]ummary judgment may be granted on the basis of
agency affidavits if they contain reasonable specificity of
detail rather than merely conclusory statements, and if they
are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the
record or by evidence of agency bad faith, ”
Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Serv., 726 F.3d
208, 215 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).
parties dispute two issues: whether the FBI adequately
searched its records under FOIA and the Privacy Act, and
whether the FBI properly withheld and redacted records
pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(E). As explained below, the
Court concludes that the FBI conducted an adequate search and
that the FBI properly invoked Exemption 7(E) to prevent ...