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Espinoza v. DOJ, No. 12-1950, 2014 WL 772656 (D.D.C. Feb. 27, 2014) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.)
February 27, 2014 Posted by

Re: Request for records concerning evidence withheld from requester during requester’s trial

Disposition: Granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Fees and Fee Waivers, Fee Waivers:  The court “finds that plaintiff has not shown that he is entitled to a fee waiver.”  The court first notes that “[i]t is reasonably safe to conclude that plaintiff has not requested the records for a commercial interest” and, therefore, “the only question is whether he has demonstrated the requisite public interest in disclosing the requested information.”  The court then rejects plaintiff’s contention that “‘a fee waiver is warranted[ ] because the production of the requested information could serve the substantial public interest in setting free an innocent man.’”  Moreover, the court finds that “plaintiff does not state his ‘ability and intention’ to disseminate the requested information to the public, which ‘alone [provides] a sufficient basis for denying the fee waiver request.’”
  • Fees and Fee Waivers, Fees:  The court finds that the unusual or exceptional circumstances referred to in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(viii) exist and, therefore, that there is “no hindrance to EOUSA’s ability to assess search fees.”
  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  The court finds that “[t]he FOIA places no obligation on an agency ‘to answer questions disguised as a FOIA request … or to create documents or opinions in response to an individual’s request for information.’”  Therefore, the court holds that “to the extent that plaintiff faults EOUSA for failing to address ‘whether the government had memorialized [third-party's] drug usage in her [pre-sentence report] when Plaintiff’s trial attorney sought its disclosure,’ . . . this question is wholly irrelevant to the FOIA analysis.”
  • Exemption 6:  The court “finds that defendants properly invoked exemption 6 to withhold [a third-party's] [pre-sentence report] since it is a document that is retrievable by her name.”
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court finds that “[p]laintiff’s conclusory allegations surrounding his prosecution, ‘has not come close to meeting the demanding Favish standard for challenging [EOUSA's] invocation of FOIA Exemption 7(C).’”  The court notes that “the identification of an individual ‘in a law enforcement file will engender comment and speculation and carries a stigmatizing connotation.’”  The court then explains that “plaintiff’s personal stake in obtaining documents in order to attack his conviction simply ‘does not count in the calculation of the public interest.’”
  • Expedited Processing:  The court finds plaintiff’s request for expedited processing moot because “EOUSA rendered a final decision on plaintiff’s request for [the third-party's] records before plaintiff had even requested expedited processing, and ‘[a] district court … shall not have jurisdiction to review an agency denial of expedited processing … after the agency has provided a complete response to the request.’”
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