Miller v. U.S. Dept. of Justice

Citation562 F.Supp.2d 82
Decision Date24 June 2008
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 05-1314 (HHK).
PartiesCharles MILLER, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Charles Miller, Coleman, FL, pro se.

Jane M. Lyons, United States Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


HENRY H. KENNEDY, JR., District Judge.

This action, which is brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


On or about March 16, 2003, plaintiff sent a FOIA request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters office in Washington, D.C. ("FBIHQ") seeking information about himself including, but not limited to: "(1) arrest records, (2) investigation and/or investigatory reports, (3) reports or evidentiary and/or scientific information findings, (4) wants, warrants, and/or detainers, (5) final and closing investigation reports; and (6) any and/or all information, data, or reports not otherwise exempt by statute." Complaint ("Compl."), Exhibit ("Ex.") A (FOIA Request). In response, on September 8, 2004, FBIHQ released 191 pages of redacted records and indicated that the redactions had been made pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 7(C) and 7(D). In addition, FBIHQ notified plaintiff that it withheld another 62 pages of records pursuant to FOIA Exemption 3. Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed FBIHQ's decision to the Justice Department's Office Of Information and Privacy ("OIP").

Plaintiff filed the instant civil action in June 2005. His response to defendant's motion for summary judgment prompted FBIHQ to conduct a second search for records responsive to his FOIA request. As a result of the second search, FBIHQ located a Legal Attache ("Legat") Bridgetown main file, and from this file promptly released 63 pages of redacted public source documents, indicating that the redactions had been made pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 1, 2, 5, 6, 7(A), 7(C), 7(D), and 7(F). Later, FBIHQ released 323 pages, out of 1,440 pages reviewed, indicating that the redactions had been made pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 1, 2, 5, 6, 7(C), 7(D), 7(E) and 7(F).

Among the responsive FBIHQ records located were documents which originated in full or in part with other government agencies or other components of the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"). Documents were referred to the DOJ's Criminal Division,1 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("BATFE"),2 the Defense Intelligence Agency ("DIA"),3 the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"),4 the Department of Defense ("DOD"),5 the Department of State ("State Department"),6 and to the Department of the Army ("Army")7 for direct response to plaintiff. In addition, FBIHQ forwarded 312 pages of records to "another government agency for direct response to plaintiff." Hardy IV Decl. ¶ 108. FBIHQ, however, did not identify the agency and the record of this case does not explain the disposition of these records.

By this action, plaintiff challenges the responses to his FOIA request.8

A Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

The court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits or declarations, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits or declarations or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C.Cir. 1992).

In a FOIA case, the court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith." Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C.Cir.1981); see also Hertzberg v. Veneman, 273 F.Supp.2d 67, 74 (D.D.C. 2003). Such affidavits or declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by `purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.'" Safe-Card Servs., Inc. v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C.Cir.1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C.Cir.1981)).

B. FBIHQ's Searches for Responsive Records

"An agency fulfills its obligations under FOIA if it can demonstrate beyond material doubt that its search was `reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'" Valencia-Lucena v. United States Coast Guard, 180 F.3d 321, 325 (D.C.Cir.1999) (quoting Truitt v. Dep't of State, 897 F.2d 540, 542 (D.C.Cir.1990)); Campbell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 27 (D.C.Cir.1998) (requiring agency to conduct its search using methods reasonably expected to produce requested information). The agency bears the burden of showing that its search was calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Steinberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 23 F.3d 548, 551 (D.C.Cir.1994). To meet its burden, the agency may submit affidavits or declarations that explain in reasonable detail the scope and method of the agency's search. Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 126 (D.C.Cir.1982). In the absence of contrary evidence, such affidavits or declarations are sufficient to demonstrate an agency's compliance with FOIA. Id. at 127. But if the record "leaves substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of the search, summary judgment for the agency is not proper." Truitt, 897 F.2d at 542.

1. FBIHQ's Central Records System

In its Central Records System ("CRS"), the FBI maintains its "administrative, applicant, criminal, personnel, and other files compiled for law enforcement purposes." Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mot."), Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy I Decl") ¶ 11. The records are organized by subject matter, and a file's subject matter may relate to an individual, organization, company, publication, activity, or foreign intelligence matter. General indices, which consist of index cards arranged in alphabetical order, are the means by which CRS records are retrieved. Entries in the general indices are either "main" entries or "reference" entries. Id. ¶ 13. The former "carr[y] the name corresponding with a subject of a file contained in the CRS;" the latter "are generally only a mere mention or reference to an individual, organization, etc., contained in a document located in another `main' file." Id. FBIHQ's policy "is to search for and identify only `main' files responsive to [FOIA] requests," unless a requester specifically asks for a search of cross-references. Defendant's Fourth Motion for Enlargement of Time, Second Declaration of David M. Hardy ("Hardy II Decl.") ¶ 5.

The decision to index names other than subjects, suspects, and victims is left to the discretion of the assigned Special Agent, the Supervisory Special Agent at the field office conducting the investigation, and the Supervisory Special Agent at FBIHQ. Hardy I Decl. ¶ 16. Without an index, "information essential to ongoing investigations could not be readily retrieved. The FBI files would be merely archival in nature and could not be effectively used to serve the mandated mission of the FBI." Id. ¶ 17. Thus, general indices to the CRS files "are the means by which the FBI can determine what retrievable information, if any," its files may contain on a particular subject. Id.

2. File Number 245-HQ-657

To locate records pertaining to a particular subject, such as plaintiff, FBIHQ staff search by the subject's name in the CRS index. Hardy I Decl. ¶ 14. In this case, the search located one main file, 245-HQ-657, which "contain[s] information regarding a multi-subject drug investigation of numerous co-conspirators." Id. ¶ 18. Its universal case file number indicates that the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (245) conducted the investigation, that FBIHQ was the investigation's office of origin (HQ), and that it was assigned an individual case file number (657). Id. ¶ 15(a).

Plaintiff challenged the adequacy of FBIHQ's initial search for responsive records asserting that he "had contact with certain agents of the FBI since [the] early 1990'[s] and [had] information based on reliable sources that the FBI was involved with investigative operations related to [him] throughout the 1990's." Affidavit of Charles E. Miller in Support of Opposition to Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Aff) ¶ 5. These investigations pertained to drug trafficking on the island of St. Kitts and events occurring while plaintiff was incarcerated at a United States Penitentiary. See id. ¶¶ 6-11. According to plaintiff, FBIHQ "should have [ ] additional records related to [him] considering [his] extensive history and association with international figures deeply involved in both illegal activity as well as law enforcement activities." Id. ¶ 13. He argued that FBIHQ was not "acting in good faith by claiming that no other records exist on [him] at FBI that post-date" hi...

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