On November 13, 1989, plaintiff requested a copy of
defendant's Mutual Mortgage Insurance/Mortgage Insurance
Premium list for the State of New Jersey. The list, which
defendant released to plaintiff, consisted of homeowners who
had paid a onetime mortgage insurance premium to the Federal
Housing Administration ("FHA") of HUD, and who were eligible
for distribution share refunds from HUD, but who had not been
paid the refunds for over two years after the time at which
they had become eligible. The information on the list included
the mortgagor's name, last known address, FHA case number,
address of the mortgaged property, as well as the outstanding
amount of the refund. The purpose of such a list is to allow
a third party tracer, like plaintiff, to attempt to locate
potential claimants whom HUD is unable to locate. The tracers
usually do this service in return for a percentage of the
refund paid by HUD to the mortgagor.
After receiving the list, plaintiff further requested that
defendant also provide him with the social security numbers
and dates of birth for all individuals on the list. HUD
refused to release this information, and plaintiff thereafter
commenced this action to compel disclosure — by defendant —
of the social security numbers and dates of birth.
Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to this information
pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552.
Generally, that statute provides for the disclosure of
information held by various federal agencies. Defendant asserts
that its refusal to disclose the information is justified under
exemption six of the FOIA. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6).
The Freedom of Information Act generally provides guidelines
for the disclosure of information by government agencies.
5 U.S.C. § 552. Section 552(a)(3) requires every agency "upon any
request for records" to make such records "promptly available
to any person." If an agency improperly withholds any
documents, the district court has the authority to order their
production. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); United States Dep't of
Justice v. Reporters Comm., 489 U.S. 749, 109 S.Ct. 1468, 1472,
103 L.Ed.2d 774 (1989). The Act further provides nine
categories of documents which are exempted from the broad
disclosure requirements. Exemption six states that the Freedom
of Information Act does not apply to "personnel and medical
files and similar files the disclosure of which would
constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6); Local 3, I.B.E.W., AFL-CIO v. N.L.R.B.,
845 F.2d 1177, 1180-81 (2d Cir. 1988). Plaintiff in the case at
bar does not contest that the information he has requested
falls within the meaning of the term "similar files" found in
exemption six. See I.B.E.W. Local Union v. HUD, 852 F.2d 87,
88-89 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).
As a general matter, with respect to the instant case, it is
to be noted that the purpose of the FOIA is not to allow one
private citizen, such as plaintiff, to receive personal
information about other private citizens. Despite the fact
that the FOIA was designed to create "a broad right of access
to `official information,'" Reporters Committee, 109 S.Ct. at
1481 (citation omitted), the Supreme Court has noted that the
basic policy underlying the act "focuses on the citizens' right
to be informed about `what the government is up to.'" Id. For
example, information falling within such a purpose is that
which "sheds light on an agency's performance of its statutory
duties. . . ." Id. To that end, the statutory purpose is not
furthered by a disclosure of information about private citizens
which "reveals little or nothing about an agency's own
conduct." Id. In the present case, it appears clear that
plaintiff does not intend to discover anything about the
conduct of the defendant agency. Plaintiff seeks the personal
information from HUD solely for the purpose of locating private
citizens. The Supreme Court has never, in any of its cases
construing the FOIA, ordered an agency to honor requests for
information about a private citizen. See id. at 1482 & n. 21.
In addition, this Court finds that the release of the social
security numbers and dates of birth for those individuals on
the defendant's list would constitute a clearly unwarranted
invasion of personal privacy. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). In
making such a determination, the Court is guided by the
balancing test set forth by the Second Circuit in Local 3,
I.B.E.W., 845 F.2d 1177 (1988). Pursuant to that case, the
district court must balance the individual's need and intended
use for the information with the privacy rights of those
involved. See id. at 1181. In light of what he has already
received, plaintiff's intended use and asserted need for the
social security numbers and dates of birth would serve very
little purpose. Plaintiff has already received the names and
addresses, in addition to other information, of those
individuals he wishes to locate. This previously disclosed
information appears sufficient for plaintiff's purposes, and
the addition of the social security numbers and dates of birth
would not greatly enhance plaintiff's search.
Moreover, it has been held that individuals' social security
numbers are within the parameters of exemption six.
I.B.E.W. Local Union, 852 F.2d at 89. Indeed, the Third Circuit
recently described the "strong privacy interest" in social
security numbers. Id. This Court agrees that social security
numbers, and dates of birth, are a private matter, particularly
when coupled with the other information plaintiff has received.
A social security number may be used in a variety of ways, and
should not be disclosed without the consent of the individual
whose number is being released. See id. As weighed against this
privacy interest, the Court finds that plaintiff has failed to
advance a persuasive need for the information. See Local 3,
I.B.E.W., 845 F.2d at 1181.
For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that the
information requested by plaintiff in the case at bar is
exempt from disclosure pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6);
accordingly, the complaint is hereby dismissed. The Clerk of
the Court is directed to enter judgment for the defendant and
close the file in this case.
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