Richardson v. U.S. Dept. of Justice

Decision Date13 August 2010
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 09-01916 (ESH)
Citation730 F.Supp.2d 225
PartiesDewayne RICHARDSON, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Dewayne Richardson, White Deer, PA, pro se.

Mitchell P. Zeff, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendants.



Plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), see 5 U.S.C. § 552, against the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ").1 This matter is before the Court on the DOJ's motion for summary judgment which, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant.


In October 2006, plaintiff submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ, Executive Office for United States Attorneys ("EOUSA"). (Compl. ¶ 2.) In relevant part the request read:

I am requesting a copy of the Medical Record from the Washington Hospital Center for patient Glen Dozier which was recorded on or about May 14th, 2003 for multiple stab wounds. [T]his information was entered into evidence in case number F-3134-03 and testimony was taken on Thursday, May 6, 2004 on Direct Examination from Dr. Dennis Wang.
I am also requesting any and all Tangable [sic] Evidence involved in this case, Complainant/Witness Statements,Crime Lab reports, Photo[ ]s of injuries to complainant, any information of any other Suspects involved in this case [and] Photo[ ]s of the crime scene.

(Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of their Mot. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mem."), Ex. A ("Boseker Decl."), Ex. A (October 11, 2006 FOIA Request), Apr. 7, 2010; see Compl. ¶ 11.) The EOUSA acknowledged receipt of the request, which had been assigned a tracking number, FOIA No. 07-341. (Boseker Decl, Ex. B (letter from W.G. Stewart II, Acting Assistant Director, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Staff, EOUSA).)

Based on the criminal case number plaintiff provided, the EOUSA determined that responsive records likely would be located at the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia ("USAO/DC"). (Boseker Decl. ¶ 6.) The USAO/DC's search yielded records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Relying on FOIA Exemptions 3, 6, 7(C), 7(D), and 7(F), the EOUSA released 10 pages of records in part and withheld 109 pages of records in full. ( See id. ¶¶ 19-20.) The EOUSA also referred 2 pages of records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") ( id. ¶ 21), and the FBI withheld both pages in full under FOIA Exemptions 6 and (C). (Defs.' Mem., Ex. C ("Hardy Decl.") ¶ 7.)

A. Summary Judgment in a FOIA Case

The Court grants a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, together with any affidavits or declarations, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the 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). "[A] material fact is 'genuine' ... if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits, 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 information provided in an agency's affidavits or declarations when they 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). 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.' " SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C.Cir.1991) (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. CIA, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C.Cir.1981)).

In opposing a summary judgment motion, a party may not "replace conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with conclusory allegations of an affidavit," Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990), but rather must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issuefor trial," Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] plaintiff pursuing an action under FOIA must establish that either: (1) the Vaughn index does not establish that the documents were properly withheld; (2) the agency has improperly claimed an exemption as a matter of law; or (3) the agency has failed to segregate and disclose all nonexempt material in the requested documents." Schoenman v. FBI, 573 F.Supp.2d 119, 134 (D.D.C.2008) (citations omitted).

B. The EOUSA's Search 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. U.S. 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)); see also Steinberg v. U.S. 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 the FOIA. Id. at 127. However, 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.

A Supervisory Paralegal Specialist at the USAO/DC acts as its FOIA Coordinator, and in this capacity she receives FOIA requests from the EOUSA "when requested records are identified as likely to be located in the District of Columbia." (Defs.' Mem., Ex. B ("Jones Decl.") ¶ 1.) Based on her "review of the official files and records of the USAO-DC and [her] personal knowledge" ( id. ¶ 2), she determined the office's "computer case tracking system, the Legal Information Network System ('LIONS')" had been searched using plaintiff's name and criminal case number as search terms. ( Id. ¶ 7.) This LIONS query yielded no responsive records. ( Id. ¶ 9.)

The Paralegal Specialist conducted a second search using "a computerized docketing/case management system known as the Master Index System ('MI') [, which] links and indexes key pieces of data from five foundational systems, including LIONS[.]" (Defs.' Mem., Jones Decl. ¶ 10.) The MI System permits "searches and queries by name, location, or event on defendants, suspects, witnesses, and other individuals involved in criminal cases, investigations," and other matters. ( Id.) Although the initial search of the MI System using plaintiff's name and criminal case number as search terms yielded no responsive records ( id. ¶ 11), the declarant states that a subsequent search using only the criminal case number as a search term "revealed a criminal case file which was not identified as related to [plaintiff] but to a different individual." ( Id. ¶ 12.) The declarant further states that this file was retrieved from the Closed File Unit ( id. ¶¶ 12-13), and the responsive records found in that file were forwarded to the EOUSA for processing. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

"Plaintiff assert[s] and contend[s] that the defendant[ ] never conducted a reasonable search for the responsive records," and he points to the "release [of] responsive documents after the filing of the instant lawsuit [as] evidence of an inadequate search." (Pl.'s Resp. Mot. in Opp'n to the Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 8, May 14, 2010.) The timing of an agency's release of records responsive to a FOIA request does notdetermine whether the agency has complied with its obligations under the FOIA. "[W]hether the search was completed before or after the requestor files a lawsuit, the remedy available to the plaintiff in a FOIA suit is the same: access to the documents to which he is entitled under the law." Tunchez v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, No. 09-473, 715 F.Supp.2d 49, 54, 2010 WL 2202506, at *4 (D.D.C. June 3, 2010) (citations omitted). And if the Court determines that the agency has, "however belatedly, released all nonexempt material, [it has] no further judicial function to perform under the FOIA." Perry, 684 F.2d at 125; see Tijerina v. Walters, 821 F.2d 789, 799 (D.C.Cir.1987) (" '[H]owever fitful or delayed the release of information under the FOIA may be ... if we are convinced appellees have, however belatedly, released all nonexempt material, we have no further judicial function to perform under the FOIA.' ") (quoting Perry, 684 F.2d at 125).

Based on the EOUSA's supporting declaration, the Court concludes that the agency conducted an adequate search for records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request.

C. Exemptions

An agency that withholds information responsive to a plaintiff's request must justify its decision in accordance with the exemptions identified in the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 552(a)(4)(B), 552(b); Al-Fayed v. CIA, 254 F.3d 300, 305 (D.C.Cir.2001). To this end, an agency generally submits "affidavits or declarations that describe the documents involved and justify the non-disclosure in a clear, specific and reasonably detailed manner, and that are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the...

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