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Brestle v. Lappin, No. 11-1771, 2013 WL 3107486 (D.D.C. June 20, 2013) (Roberts, J.)
June 20, 2013 Posted by

Re: Documents forwarded to specific agency officials concerning plaintiff’s incarceration

Disposition: Granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment in part; denying plaintiff’s motions; ordering defendant to clarify response and justify certain withholdings

  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The Court finds that, “[d]efendant’s combined searches establish a reasonably adequate search.”  The Court notes that defendant “‘visually checked [plaintiff's] central file and the filing which was pending for responsive documents,’ since ‘[t]he type of documents [plaintiff] was requesting normally are only placed in the[ ] inmate ['s] central file.’”  Additionally, “‘[t]he captain forwarded the [request] to his lieutenants and the SIS Department, [which] maintain[s] an investigative file on inmates when an investigation is opened.’”  Moreover, the Court notes that, “[i]n preparing for the instant motion, [defendant. . . 'check[ed] for documents relevant to the original request,’ and ‘specifically asked the new FOIA Coordinator to check with SIS and the case manager to see if they had any documents which were forwarded to them by the unit secretary which [plaintiff] had personally given to the unit secretary.’”  In light of these statements by defendant, the Court finds that “[p]laintiff’s vague and unsubstantiated references to other ‘investigative documents’ fail to provide any basis for doubting the reasonableness of defendant’s search.”
  • Exemption 6:  The Court finds that defendant correctly withheld “the name and telephone number of an ‘investigator/staff member’” pursuant to Exemption 6.  The Court notes that, “disclosure of the information might subject the individual ‘to possible harassment or criticism[,] focus derogatory inferences,’ and ‘trigger hostility toward’ the individual.”  Therefore, “[d]efendant has demonstrated the ‘strong privacy interest’ the staff investigator has in protecting his or her identity from disclosure.”
  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The Court finds that “[t]he threshold law enforcement requirement is satisfied.”  The Court bases its finding on defendant’s statement describing, “SIS as ‘a department within [BOP] which investigates inappropriate or illegal activities which occur within the prison system,’ . . . and describes the responsive records as copies of documents plaintiff’s former case manager ‘had forwarded to the SIS Department back in 2009.’”  The Court even notes that, “[p]laintiff does not dispute that the documents are law enforcement records and, in fact, appears to agree with this characterization.”
  • Exemption 7(C):  The Court finds that defendant correctly withheld certain information pertaining to third parties on the pages released in part to plaintiff.  The Court dismisses plaintiff’s argument that, “‘a full and comprehensive disclosure … is required as they show evidence of three … criminal acts committed by BOP officials in retaliation against the Plaintiff for trying to accurately report these crimes.’”  The Court notes that, “‘[b]ecause the FOIA is concerned with the right of the general public to know what their government is up to, the identity and interest of the party requesting the document are irrelevant to th[e] balancing’ of public and privacy interests, . . . as is the requester’s ‘personal stake in the release of the requested information.’”  The Court finds that the information withheld is of, “‘the type … [that] is simply not very probative of an agency’s behavior or performance,’ . . . and plaintiff has not proffered any evidence or pointed to anything in the record to find the contrary here.’”
  • Exemption 7(F):  The Court finds that defendant appropriately withheld information pursuant to Exemption 7(F).  The Court notes that the records included information concerning, “individuals . . .  cooperating with [agency]‘s investigation of ‘inappropriate or [potentially] illegal activities.’”  The Court observes that, “[s]ince an investigation of this kind could reasonably be expected to place cooperating individuals (plaintiff included) at risk, especially in a prison setting, defendant properly invoked exemption 7(F) and is entitled to summary judgment on this exemption.’”
  • Segregability:  The Court finds that defendant’s “statement about [its] segregability review does not specifically address the large blocks of information withheld under exemption 7(C), and the vague descriptions in the Vaughn index are equally unhelpful.”  The Court notes that, “while defendant represents that it redacted information only from the released pages, the record reveals that virtually entire pages of information were withheld solely under exemption 7(C).”  The Court analyzes defendant’s statements that it, “‘carefully examined’ the responsive documents for segregability and determined that disclosure of the withheld information ‘could cause unwarranted and clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy interests of third parties; and could disclose the identities of—and information provided by—techniques and procedures.’”  The Court finds that, “[d]efendant has not demonstrated that the ‘exempt and nonexempt information [contained in the above-listed pages] are inextricably intertwined, such that the excision of exempt information would impose significant costs on the agency and produce an edited document with little informational value.’”
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