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GARCIA v. U.S.

January 14, 2002

EDWIN GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
V.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, OFFICE OF INFORMATION AND PRIVACY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gabriel W. Gorenstein, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER*fn1

Introduction

Plaintiff Edwin Garcia seeks declaratory and injunctive relief ordering the United States Department of Justice to produce records responsive to his Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request made to the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") on December 6, 1998. The United States Department of Justice (the "Government") has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure dismissing plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that (a) the Government has identified all responsive documents that it is required to identify under FOIA and (b) the Government has withheld or redacted only those documents that it is entitled to withhold or redact under exemptions to FOIA's disclosure requirements.

Garcia's Convictions

Garcia, a former New York State police officer, was convicted on November 23, 1992, of two counts of robbery in the first degree for the armed robbery of a jewelry store in the Town of Poughkeepsie and was sentenced to serve two concurrent terms of 12-1/2 to 25 years. See Sentence and Commitment, People v. Edwin Garcia, et al., Ind. No. 195/91, dated November 24, 1992 (reproduced as Exhibit A to Declaration of David J. Kennedy, dated February 28, 2001 ("Kennedy Decl.")). During the robbery, conducted by Garcia and another individual (Lisa Seymour), Garcia placed a gun to the head of the wife of the jewelry store manager, told her not to look at his face, and struck her in the head with the gun. The robbers used duct tape to cover the woman's eyes and to bind her hands; they also placed a rag in her mouth and made her sit on the floor with her back against the wall while Garcia robbed the store. See Bill of Particulars, People v. Edwin Garcia et al., Ind. No. 195/91 (Supreme Court, Dutchess County), dated January 29, 1992 (reproduced as Exhibit C to Kennedy Decl.). Garcia also forced two customers, who arrived at the store toward the end of the robbery, to lie down on the floor at gunpoint while he took their car keys. Id.

Shortly after being imprisoned on the robbery conviction, Garcia plotted to murder Lisa Seymour, the co-perpetrator of the robbery, who had testified against Garcia at trial. See Indictment, People v. Edwin Garcia, Ind. No. 94-36 (County Court, Cayuga County), January Term, 1994 (reproduced as Exhibit F to Kennedy Decl.). Garcia provided written information and a photograph of Ms. Seymour to an undercover officer who was to perform the contract killing. Id. On January 26, 1995, Garcia was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 7-1/2 to 15 years to run consecutively to his sentence on the armed robbery conviction. See Sentence and Commitment, People v. Garcia, Ind. No. 94-36 (County Court, Cayuga County Jan. 26, 1995) (reproduced as Exhibit D to Kennedy Decl.).*fn2

Garcia's FOIA Request and the FBI's Response

By letter dated December 6, 1998, Garcia made a request pursuant to FOIA to the New York Field Office of the FBI. In that letter, Garcia requested any investigative reports pertaining to himself including "copies of any statements made by individuals where no requests of confidentiality was [sic] promised or given. And who were interviewed in reference to the investigation of my person." Declaration of Scott A. Hodes, dated January 23, 2001 ("Hodes Decl."), ¶ 4; Exhibit A.

On June 22, 1999, the FBI wrote to Garcia and informed him that approximately 900 pages appeared to be responsive to his FOIA request and that Garcia would be responsible for any duplication fees. Id. ¶ 11; Exhibit H. Garcia responded by letter dated June 27, 1999, that he would be willing to pay any such duplicating fees. Id. ¶ 12; Exhibit I. The FBI acknowledged receipt of this letter and informed Garcia that he would have to wait until requests ahead of his had been processed. Id. ¶ 13; Exhibit J.

The FOIA Action

On July 7, 2000, Garcia filed the complaint in this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief ordering the Government to produce records responsive to his request. On October 13, 2000, the FBI released 333 pages of information to Garcia. Id. ¶ 16; Exhibit M. 133 additional pages were released to Garcia on November 15, 2000, and another 217 pages were released to Garcia on November 30, 2000. Id. ¶¶ 17, 18; Exhibits N, O. After the FBI released these pages, Garcia provided a privacy waiver for Manuel Alvarez. Id. ¶ 19. The FBI reprocessed all of its previous releases to take into account this new waiver. Id. n. 1.

Garcia now contests the FBI's decision to withhold certain responsive documents and to redact portions of other responsive documents that were released to him. Correspondence between the parties has narrowed the scope of the documents currently sought by Garcia to 160 redacted pages of documents and 261 pages of withheld documents. See Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment dated February 28, 2001 at 8 (citing to correspondence); Exhibit K to Kennedy Decl. (copies of the documents in dispute); Memorandum of Law in Opposition of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Garcia Mem.") at 1 ("[p]laintiff accepts and adopts defendants [sic] exhibits as an accurate representation of the records being litigated in this matter."); accord Exhibit J to Kennedy Decl. (letter from Garcia).

The Withheld and Redacted FOIA Material

The 421 pages at issue that were withheld or redacted by the FBI, see Exhibit K to Kennedy Decl., were withheld or redacted pursuant to the exemptions to FOIA listed below. See Rule 56.1 Statement, dated February 28, 2001 ("Gov't Stat.), ¶ 27 (summarizing redactions).

(1) Exemption 7(C) of FOIA: This provision exempts from disclosure information that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C).

(2) Exemption 7(D) of FOIA: This provision exempts from disclosure information that "could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(D).

(3) Exemption 7(F) of FOIA: This provision exempts from disclosure information that could "endanger the life or physical safety of any individual." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(F).

(4) Exemption 3 of FOIA: This provision exempts from disclosure any information "specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). The relevant statute here is Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which bars public disclosure of matters before a grand jury.

All the claimed exemptions are described in the Declaration of Scott A. Hodes, dated January 23, 2001, which serves as an index of the different exemption categories invoked by the Government in this case. The Government has essentially provided a "coded" index (commonly known as a "Vaughn" index, see Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974)) by assigning codes to the various asserted statutory exemptions. The codes consist of the particular FOIA exemption's statutory subsection (for example, Exemption 7(C)) broken down into subcategories. Thus "(b)(7)(C) — 1" designates the withholding or redaction of names of FBI Special Agents or non-agent employees of the FBI. Hodes Decl. ¶ 38. The designation "(b)(7)(C) — 2" designates the names and/or descriptive data of third party individuals who were of investigative interest. Id. ¶ 39. For each document that has been withheld, the statutory exemption and relevant sub-category has been noted. See Kennedy Decl., Exhibit K. Where there is a redaction within a particular page, the exemption and sub-category is noted next to that particular redaction. See id. Sometimes more than one exemption and sub-category is noted for a particular redaction or withheld document. The Government has also supplied a listing of each document that has been withheld or redacted followed by the particular exemption code or codes that were applied. See Gov't Stat. ¶ 27.

The Motion for Summary Judgment

On March 2, 2001, the Government filed the instant motion for summary judgment dismissing Garcia's FOIA complaint on the grounds that (a) after making an adequate search, the Government has produced all responsive documents that it is required to produce under FOIA and (b) that the Government has withheld or redacted only those documents that it is entitled to withhold or redact under exemptions to FOIA's disclosure requirements. Included with its motion papers was a Statement Pursuant to Rule 56.1, dated February 28, 2001, and a notice to the pro se plaintiff regarding the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, as required by Local Civil Rule 56.2. In response, the plaintiff submitted a memorandum in opposition along with a filing denominated "Rule 56.1 Statement." This statement challenged many of the facts underlying the criminal charges for which he was convicted but did not otherwise controvert the allegations of the Government's Rule 56.1 Statement. See Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement, dated March 31, 2001 ("Garcia Stat."). Following the initial submission of the Government's reply memorandum, additional briefing from the parties was received in May and June 2001.

DISCUSSION

I. The Legal Standard for Summary Judgment in Actions Brought Pursuant to FOIA

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment in an action brought pursuant to FOIA, the Government has "the burden of showing that its search was adequate and that any withheld documents fall within an exemption to the FOIA." Carney v. United States Dep't of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 812 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 823 (1994); accord Ruotolo v. Dep't of Justice, Tax Div., 53 F.3d 4, 9 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Carney, 19 F.3d at 812). Summary judgment may be granted on the basis of affidavits or declarations "supplying facts indicating that the [government] agency has conducted a thorough search and giving reasonably detailed explanations why any withheld documents fall within an exemption." Carney, 19 F.3d at 812; see also Grand Cent. P'ship v. Cuomo, 166 F.3d 473, 478 (2d Cir. 1999) (district court may grant summary judgment to an agency based on affidavits which contain "reasonable specificity of detail" if there is no evidence of bad faith) (citation omitted). Affidavits submitted by an agency are presumed to have been made in good faith. Carney, 19 F.3d at 812. If the agency's submissions are facially ...


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