DePlanche v. Califano

Citation549 F. Supp. 685
Decision Date04 October 1982
Docket NumberNo. K 77-371.,K 77-371.
PartiesRoger DePLANCHE, Plaintiff, v. Joseph A. CALIFANO, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, individually and in his official capacity as Secretary, Defendant.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)


William Coash, Legal Aid Society of Calhoun County, Battle Creek, Mich., for plaintiff.

John A. Smietanka, U.S. Atty. by Donald Davis, Asst. U.S. Atty., Grand Rapids, Mich., for defendant.


ENSLEN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on cross Motions for Summary Judgment filed by both the Plaintiff and Defendant pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary Judgment is appropriate only where no genuine issue of material fact remains to be decided and the Plaintiff or Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Willetts v. Ford Motor Company, 583 F.2d 852, 855 (CA 6 1978); Felix v. Young, 536 F.2d 1126, 1130 (CA 6 1976); Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56(c). A court may not resolve disputed questions of fact in a summary judgment decision; see United States v. Articles of Device ... Diapulse, 527 F.2d 1008, 1011 (CA 6 1976), and if a disputed question of fact remains, the court should deny the Motion for Summary Judgment and proceed to trial. See Felix v. Young, supra, at 1030; Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corporation v. Storm King Corporation, 303 F.2d 425, 427 (CA 6 1962). These guidelines will be adhered to as the substantive issues of these motions are examined.

Factual Background

On May 23, 1977 the Plaintiff requested from the Social Security Administration the address of his two minor children pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552. At first blush, this request seems odd; however, the facts underscoring Plaintiff's interest reveal why this inquiry was made.

In a circuit court action in Ottawa County, Michigan, Plaintiff, who was not married to the children's mother, was named father and ordered to pay support pursuant to a November 2, 1973 Order of Filiation and Support. No visitation rights were entered according to that decree. At the time this order went into effect, Plaintiff was disabled and a recipient of social security disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. His children are, accordingly, entitled to social security benefits as dependents of a disabled wage earner. The children are minors and, therefore, receive these benefits through a representative payee. 42 U.S.C. § 405(k). These social security benefits have constituted the Plaintiff's child support payments since the entry of the Order of Filiation and Support. The May 23, 1977 request was initiated so that Plaintiff could visit his children.

This request was denied by the Social Security Administration in a letter dated June 2, 1977, wherein it was stated that releasing the address of the children would constitute: "a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy", and referred the Plaintiff to an enclosed copy of sections of the Administrative Manual which dealt with the release of such information; SSA Administrative Rule § 7320.1(a) and (b). On June 9, 1977 a follow-up letter was forwarded to the Social Security Administration by the Plaintiff, reiterating his former request under FOIA and also, for the first time, citing the Privacy Act, specifically 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(1), (permitting an individual access to his record); 5 U.S.C. § 552a(h), (providing that the parent of a minor may act on behalf of the individual); and 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b)(8), (permitting disclosure without consent: "pursuant to a showing of compelling circumstances affecting the health or safety of an individual"), as grounds for the release of his children's address.

Without having received a reply, the Plaintiff on July 29, 1977 filed suit in this Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Subsequent thereto, on June 22, 1978 Plaintiff sought administrative review of the Social Security Administration decision denying his previous request for information. On August 9, 1978, the then-Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Don I. Wortman, denied Plaintiff's administrative appeal because: (1) under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(1) the information requested did not "pertain" to the Plaintiff, and; (2) under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(h) it did not appear that the Plaintiff was requesting the information on behalf of his children. In addition, the Commissioner stated that personal information is not disclosed unless such disclosure would serve the public interest to a degree that outweighs the individual's right to privacy, and no such benefit would ensue in the present situation. The Commissioner stated that this policy is consistent with FOIA, which exempts from its requirements disclosure of information which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6).

A status conference on the pending district court litigation was held on January 21, 1980, at which time it was agreed that Plaintiff would file an affidavit setting forth the pertinent facts in support of his request for an injunction restraining Defendant from withholding information concerning the address of Plaintiff's two minor children. This affidavit was filed on January 31, 1980 and the government responded by filing, on March 10, 1980, a Motion for Summary Judgment. This filing was closely followed on April 14, 1980 by Plaintiff's submission of a Motion for Summary Judgment.


In support of the denial of Plaintiff's request for the address of his two minor children, the Defendant argues that denial was justified pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6), which provides that disclosure under FOIA does not apply to: "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". In opposition, the Plaintiff contends that his children's address does not come within the scope of Exemption 6, supra, since it does not share "similar privacy values" as disclosure of personnel or medical files, Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 376, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 1606, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976), and the address is not an "intimate detail" of a "highly personal" nature, but rather directs a "much lower degree of disclosure". Getman v. NLRB, 450 F.2d 670, 675 (C.A.D.C.1971).

FOIA, while providing for public access to information gathered by the government, specifically exempts certain material including, under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6): "Personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". The standard for granting summary judgment in favor of the agency's denial, applicable to the bulk of the nine exemptions listed in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), differs from that required in Exemption 6 (and 7(C)). Lesar v. United States Department of Justice, 636 F.2d 472, 486 n. 80 (C.A.D.C.1980). In the bulk of the exemptions, the Court's primary role is to review the adequacy of the affidavits and other evidence presented by the government in support of its position, utilizing in camera examination as an aid in determining whether the government's affidavits are accurate and made in good faith. If the affidavits describe the content of the material withheld and adequately state the grounds for nondisclosure, and if those grounds are reasonable and consistent with applicable law, nondisclosure should be upheld. Cox v. United States Department of Justice, 576 F.2d 1302 (CA 8 1978). It is only necessary for the Court to determine whether the affidavits provide specific information to place the documents within an exemption category. If such information is not contradicted on the record, and if there is no evidence of agency bad faith, summary judgment is appropriate without an in camera review of the documents. Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity v. Central Intelligence Agency, 636 F.2d 838, 845 (C.A.D.C.1980). Exemption 6 (and 7(C)) however, must be construed in a different manner than these other exemptions.

Here, the Court is called upon to balance the conflicting interests and values involved, whereas in other exemptions, Congress has struck the balance. Hence the task of the Court is limited to finding whether the material at issue is within a defined category enumerated in an exemption. Lesar v. United States Department of Justice, supra, at 486 n. 80.

In assessing whether a particular disclosure falls within Exemption 6, courts have traditionally employed a three prong test. In order for Exemption 6 to be applicable: (1) the information must constitute personnel, medical or similar files; (2) disclosure of the information must constitute an invasion of personal privacy, and; (3) the severity of the invasion of personal privacy must outweigh the public interest in disclosure. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Usery, 426 F.Supp. 150, 166-167 (D.C.1976). The Sixth Circuit in Madeira Nursing Center, Inc. v. NLRB, 615 F.2d 728, 730 (CA 6 1980), construed Exemption 6 and upheld the NLRB's refusal to produce union authorization cards requested by an employer, and in doing so stated: "The central inquiry is whether public access to the information found in the authorization card is tantamount to an invasion of privacy; if so, we ask whether such invasion is justified by any countervailing public benefit from disclosure." 615 F.2d at 730.

Plaintiff's contention that the children's address does not fall within the scope of Exemption 6's "similar files" requirement must fail for two reasons. First, Plaintiff's reliance on Getman is misplaced. While it is true that the court permitted the release of names and addresses in Getman, another circuit denied such disclosures in Wine Hobby USA, Inc. v. IRS, 502 F.2d 133 (CA 3 1974). Getman concerned labor law professors engaged in an NLRB voting study who needed names and addresses of union members to...

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