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Henderson Parks, LLC v. BOP, No. 23-13762, 2024 WL 1834150 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 26, 2024) (Cummings, J.)


Henderson Parks, LLC v. BOP, No. 23-13762, 2024 WL 1834150 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 26, 2024) (Cummings, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning investigation into death of third party

Disposition:  Denying plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment; granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court holds that “[i]t is well established that BOP is considered a law enforcement agency – and its employees law enforcement officers – for purposes of FOIA . . . and BOP has established through [its] affidavit that the documents at issue were ‘created to investigate the death of [the subject inmate] pursuant to its law enforcement mission of protecting inmates, staff, and the community.’”
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court relates that, “[h]ere, a review of the Vaughn index reveals that BOP relied on Exemption 7(C) (asserted in conjunction with Exemption 6) to withhold the names, initials, register numbers, contact information, photos, e-mails, sentencing information and/or medical records of BOP staff members, other inmates, and/or other third-parties, the ‘disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’”  “Such personally identifiable information and medical records related to the investigation of [the subject’s] death are protected under Exemption 7(C).”  “Thus, BOP has presented a reasonable basis for the articulated privacy interests to invoke Exemption 7(C), and the burden shifts to [plaintiff] to present a significant public interest to balance against those privacy interests.”  “To attempt to meet this burden, [plaintiff] asserts – without citation to supporting authority – that the interest of the ‘public in ensuring and monitoring the safety of fellow citizens who are incarcerated, and BOP’s response to incidents involving inmate safety, is substantial’ and outweighs any conceivable privacy concerns asserted by BOP.”  “While the Court certainly agrees that there is a public interest in protecting inmates, [plaintiff] has not demonstrated, beyond mere conjecture, that the information it seeks here regarding BOP’s investigation into [the subject’s] death is ‘likely to advance that [public] interest’ particularly beyond its own use for the information.”  “As such, [plaintiff] has failed to sufficiently present a public interest that outweighs the privacy interests invoked by BOP.”
  • Exemption 7(E); Exemption 7(F):  The court relates that, “[h]ere, as set forth in [defendant’s] affidavit and Vaughn index, BOP has withheld certain information and documents under Exemptions 7(E) and 7(F), including, inter alia, information supporting classification assignments related to the Central Inmate Monitoring program and separation of inmates; the daily operations of USP Big Sandy, including security protocols; techniques and procedures for gathering evidence and investigating incidents; photographs reflecting the security perimeter around Big Sandy and inmate made weapons; and names of individuals involved in the investigation into [the subject’s] death.”  “The Court affords BOP’s affidavit substantial weight, as it must, and finds that BOP has properly invoked Exemptions 7(E) and 7(F).”  The court finds that “some of the redacted and withheld information here:  ‘[I]s the type of information the BOP must monitor to keep inmates, staff, and the public safe because it is related to interpersonal and intergroup dynamics within the prison.’”  “‘Knowing who is involved in certain incidents, who has a history of animosity toward others, and who is affiliated with groups that have displayed animosity toward each other is critical to maintaining safety and order within the institution.’”  “‘This type of information is also subject to abuse or exploitation if it is used for other purposes and may reveal and endanger the prison’s confidential sources for some of that information.’”  The court “further acknowledge[s] the propriety of BOP withholding documents under Exemption 7E where – as here – they concern:  ‘information about the BOP’s sources of information and methods of acquiring it,’ ‘the methods for ascertaining threats to inmate safety,’ ‘the BOP’s assessment of and responses to potential institutional threats or disruptive activities; and the types of security personnel and equipment available on housing ranges.’”  “Similarly, the BOP has properly invoked Exemption 7(F) to further support withholding the names of the individuals involved in the investigation into [the subject’s] death.”
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  The court relates that “BOP asserts that the withheld portions of those documents contain ‘a recommendation by an employee of a federal agency’ following the investigation, namely:  (1) the conclusions drawn; (2) recommendations made by staff regarding housing proposals for the involved inmates; and (3) the manner in which staff manage the orderly running of the institution.”  “As set forth in [defendant’s] Affidavit – to which the Court must accord substantial weight – and the accompanying Vaughn affidavit, the withheld documents reflect the non-final, predecisional, and deliberative recommendations of staff members regarding the Agency’s policies for the housing of inmates.”  “Contrary to [plaintiff’s] position, such documents were properly withheld under the deliberative process privilege pursuant to Exemption 5.”
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection:  “[T]he Court exercises its discretion to deny [plaintiff’s] request for in camera review.”  “Here, for the reasons outlined above, BOP properly supported its claimed exemptions with [defendant’s] affidavit and Vaughn index, and the Court found no contrary evidence in the record or evidence of bad faith on the part of BOP.”  “Furthermore, the fact that hundreds of documents are at issue here weighs against an in camera review.”  “The Court further notes that ‘an in camera review should not be resorted to as a matter of course, simply on the theory that “it can't hurt.”’”
  • Procedural Requirements, Responding to FOIA Requests:  The court relates that “[plaintiff] has also asked the Court to order BOP to release the withheld documents to [plaintiff] on an ‘attorney’s eyes-only basis.’”  The court finds that “[t]hat request is denied.”  “First, plaintiff has offered no authority to support its position that documents can be released on an attorney’s eyes-only basis under FOIA.”  “Moreover, even if such a procedure were available under FOIA, it would not be appropriate here because the release of records to the attorneys (who work at the plaintiff’s law firm) would be tantamount to a release to the plaintiff law firm itself.”  “Indeed, as BOP argues, such a disclosure in this matter – where the attorneys are part of the plaintiff – would defeat the purpose behind FOIA and result in a de facto judgment in plaintiff’s favor notwithstanding the Court’s findings outlined in this Opinion.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7(F)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Procedural Requirements, Responding to FOIA Requests
Updated May 23, 2024