Pinson v. DOJ, No. 12-1872, 2016 WL 4250230 (D.D.C. Aug. 10, 2016) (Contreras, J.)
Re: Requests for records concerning disciplinary hearing reports, trust accounts, a certain gang, and third party inmates, as well as for certain institution supplements and public comments on certain BOP regulations
Disposition: Granting in part defendant's motion for partial summary judgment
- Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search: "The Court agrees that the DOJ has established that the searches conducted with respect to four of these requests were adequate." "However, the Court will call for supplemental briefing with respect to [one request]." First, the court finds that "DOJ has provided two declarations from the BOP showing an organized and thorough search for four of the requests at issue." "Specifically, the declarations and the DOJ’s memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment canvass each request in detail, explain to whom the request was sent, the specific databases searched, and, where appropriate, identify the specific search terms used to locate the documents." "As for the final request, . . . however, the Court currently lacks the information necessary to determine whether summary judgment should be granted in the DOJ's favor. The court relates that that request "sought 'copies of all public comments submitted in connection with the promulgation of BOP regulations[.]'" The court notes that defendant "claims that the records 'were not agency records,' and that the BOP 'does not maintain the Federal Register.'" "Yet, the Court seriously doubts the BOP's assertion that it does not maintain the particular comments at issue[.]" "The federal register notices for the proposed or interim version of each regulation at issue listed the BOP Office of General Counsel as the relevant agency to contact in order to comment on the proposed rule or interim regulation." "Those notices listed a BOP e-mail address, a mailing address, or both, as methods to comment." "In addition, although the DOJ contends that 'the Federal Register is available online for public search,' and that 'all comments received are made available for public inspection online,' . . . neither source to which the DOJ points actually contains the documents [plaintiff] seeks."
- Exemption 7, Threshold: The court holds that "DOJ has established that the responsive records at issue in this case were compiled for law enforcement purposes within the scope of Exemption 7." The court finds that "BOP's primary responsibility is to protect all persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States, as well as the law enforcement detention staff and the community." "The plain language of [plaintiff's] FOIA requests – all of which pertain to inmates . . . and prison matters handled by the BOP – and the location of the responsive records in criminal-related databases, . . . suggest that the requested records relate to a law enforcement purpose."
- Exemption 7(F): The court "finds that the DOJ properly invoked Exemption 7(F)" to withhold third party inmates' central files in full. Exemption 7(F) is at issue here because, as the court explains, "[plaintiff] did provide an executed release for each inmate." "But [BOP] further explains in [its] declaration that inmates often are placed in a catch-22: either they are threatened and assaulted if they refuse to provide the information detailed in their Central Files, or they accede and provide that information which could, itself, 'also lead to [their] being threatened or assaulted.'" "In light of the DOJ's representations – and [plaintiff's] failure to contest them – the Court agrees that release of these inmates' Central Files 'could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.'" Additionally, "[i]n light of [plaintiff's] failure to respond to the DOJ's motion, the Court presently has no reason to doubt or second-guess the BOP’s judgment." The court relates that "[t]o justify withholding these files in their entirety, the BOP asserts that, '[b]ased on the Bureau's collective experience,' it fears that allowing inmates to obtain any portion of these documents through FOIA will continue to encourage them to threaten or assault other inmates." "While the presumption that the DOJ complied with its obligation to disclose reasonably segregable material could possibly be rebutted, by consequence of her failure [sic] respond to the DOJ’s motion, [plaintiff] has failed to provide any evidence to counter the DOJ's justification for withholding the Central Files in full."