Wine v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, 1:21-cv-3349 (TNM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtTREVOR N. McFADDEN United States District Judge.
Docket Number1:21-cv-3349 (TNM)
Decision Date29 August 2022



No. 1:21-cv-3349 (TNM)

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 29, 2022


TREVOR N. McFADDEN United States District Judge.

Mitchell Wine previously worked at the Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior. After he left, a law enforcement officer went to Wine's home to retrieve Interior property. Wine then submitted a request to Interior under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking records about the officer's entry onto his property. In response, Interior produced one email containing redactions under various FOIA exemptions.

Proceeding pro se, Wine sued Interior under FOIA to obtain an unredacted copy of the same email. Wine has since amended his Complaint to add claims under the Privacy Act, Civil Service Reform Act, American with Disabilities Act, U.S. Constitution, common law, and D.C. Code. Interior filed a combined Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Dismiss. The Court will grant Interior's Motion for Summary Judgment on Wine's FOIA and Privacy Act claims and will grant its Motion to Dismiss Wine's other claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.



Wine worked at the Service for almost fifteen years. See Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (SUMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 38-1.[1] The Service removed him from his position and Wine challenged this removal before the Merit Systems Protection Board (the Board). SUMF ¶ 2. As a result, the Service and Wine reached a settlement agreement in which Wine agreed to waive future litigation for acts arising out of his employment with the Service. SUMF ¶ 3. Wine later sought to rescind his settlement agreement, but the Board rejected this request. SUMF ¶ 5.

This dispute began after an Interior officer went to Wine's home soon after he was fired. Wine claims that the officer illegally entered his property, and he filed a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress with the Arkansas State Claims Commission (the Commission). See Am. Compl. (Compl.) at 2, ECF No. 32[2]; SUMF ¶ 6-7. The Commission denied Wine's claim, finding that the Interior's officer went to Wine's property to retrieve government property. SUMF ¶ 8.

Wine then submitted a FOIA request for records about the officer's entry onto his property. See Compl. at 1. In response, Interior produced an email with information redacted under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7. SUMF ¶ 10. Though Wine appealed a similar FOIA request within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), he did not file an administrative appeal within Interior after receiving the redacted email. SUMF ¶ 11; Decl. of Darrell Strayhorn


(Strayhorn Decl.) ¶ 5-10, ECF No. 38-2. Instead, Wine sued seeking production of the unredacted email under FOIA.

Wine then amended his Complaint to include a similar claim against Interior under the Privacy Act, plus other constitutional and statutory claims. See Compl. at 4-8. All told, Wine alleges statutory violations of FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552; the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a); the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(14); the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12112; and § 23-582 of the D.C. Code. See id. He also claims that Interior intentionally inflicted emotional distress, committed a felony by making a false statement, violated his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, deprived him of his rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982, 1983, and 1985, and maliciously prosecuted him. See id. Wine asks this Court to enter an injunction ordering Interior to release an unredacted copy of the email it already produced to him about the agent's entry onto his property. See id. at 8. Wine also seeks “emergency injunctive relief” restoring him to his previous role within the Service. See id.

Interior moves for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on Wine's FOIA and Privacy Act claims, and to dismiss his other claims under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. See Def's Mot. for Summ. J. and Mot. to Dismiss (Def's Mot.), ECF No. 38. This Motion is now ripe.[3]



Under Rule 12(b)(1), this Court presumes it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal courts have limited jurisdiction; “[t]hey possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Id. An essential element of the jurisdictional analysis is whether the Defendant may be sued at all. Agencies of the United States are immune from suit in their official capacities unless Congress has expressly waived their sovereign immunity by statute. See Albrecht v. Comm. on Emp. Benefits of the Fed. Reserve Emp. Benefits Sys., 357 F.3d 62, 67 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Wine bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

Under Rule 56(a), summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine dispute of any material fact” so that the “movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court credits the nonmoving party's factual allegations and draws all justifiable inferences in his favor in ruling on a summary judgment motion. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). And a Court may convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment before discovery if “both sides had a reasonable opportunity to present evidence.” Wiley v. Glassman, 511 F.3d 151, 160-61 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

In this Court, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must also comply with Local Rule 7.1(h), which requires him to file “a separate concise statement of genuine issues setting forth all material facts” that he disputes. LCvR 7.1(h); see also SEC v. Banner Fund Int'l, 211 F.3d 602, 616 (D.C. Cir. 2000). If the party opposing the summary judgment motion fails to file such a document, the Court should consider the moving party's statement of


undisputed facts admitted. See Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner 101 F.3d 145, 151 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (explaining that “strict compliance” with this rule is justified).

Because Wine is pro se, the Court “liberally construe[s]” his Complaint and holds it “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The Court may also consider Wine's supplemental filings “to clarify the precise claims being urged.” Greenhill v. Spellings, 482 F.3d 569, 572 (D.C. Cir. 2007). But these relaxed standards do not relieve Wine of his obligation to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Local Rules. See Hedrick v. FBI, 216 F.Supp.3d 84, 93 (D.D.C. 2016).



Wine argues that Interior should be compelled to produce an unredacted copy of the email about law enforcement's entry onto his property under FOIA and the Privacy Act. See Compl. at 2. Interior responds that these claims must be dismissed because Wine did not exhaust his administrative remedies as both Acts require. See Def.'s Mot. at 3-4.

FOIA “requires each requestor to exhaust administrative remedies” before seeking judicial review. Sinito v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 176 F.3d 512, 516 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Exhausting administrative remedies includes filing a timely administrative appeal within the agency from whom a plaintiff seeks records. See 43 C.F.R. § 2.64.

Exhaustion of administrative remedies is a prudential consideration rather than a jurisdictional prerequisite. See Wilbur v. CIA, 355 F.3d 675, 677 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Even so, failure to exhaust precludes judicial review if the “particular administrative scheme” and “the purposes of exhaustion” support such a bar. Hidalgo v. FBI, 344 F.3d 1256, 1259 (D.C. Cir. 2003).


The purposes of exhaustion include “preventing premature interference with agency processes, afford[ing] the parties and the courts the benefit of [the agency's] experience and expertise, and compil[ing] a record which is adequate for judicial review.” Id. (quoting Ryan v. Bentsen, 12 F.3d 245, 247 (D.C. Cir. 1993)) (cleaned up). FOIA's administrative scheme favors treating failure to exhaust as a bar to judicial review. See id.

So too under the Privacy Act. “A person seeking judicial review of an agency's handling of his or her Privacy Act request must actually exhaust the available administrative remedies.” Barouch v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 962 F.Supp.2d 30, 67 (D.D.C. 2013); see also Haase v. Sessions, 893 F.2d 370, 373 (D.C. Cir. 1990). And “exhaustion under the Privacy Act is a jurisdictional requirement.” Stein v. SEC, 266 F.Supp.3d 326, 336 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(d)(1)-3, (g)(1)); see also Haase, 893 F.2d at 373.

Interior requires individuals to administratively appeal the results of their FOIA and Privacy Act requests. See 43 C.F.R. §§ 2.57-2.64, 2.240. Wine claims that he has exhausted his administrative remedies under both Acts. See Proof of Exhaust. of Admin. Remedies & Mot. to Renew Emer. Relief Requests (Mot. for Emer. Relief 2), Ex. A, ECF No. 41. But he provides no evidence to support this assertion. See SUMF ¶ 11.

Though Wine provides evidence that he filed an administrative appeal within a different agency, See Mot. for Emer. Relief 2, Ex. A, he does not show that he appealed within Interior, See SUMF ¶ 11. Wine only supplies an email from a Service employee who advised him to contact DHS about the redacted email. See id. But this communication does not relieve Wine of his obligation to exhaust under Interior regulations. See 43 C.F.R. §§ 2.57-2.64, 2.240.

More, Interior submits a declaration from its FOIA and Privacy Act Appeals Officer that contradicts Wine's unsubstantiated claims about exhaustion. Interior's...

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