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GARCIA v. U.S.
January 14, 2002
EDWIN GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
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.
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, 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
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.
The FBI responded to Garcia's initial FOIA request by letter dated
January 11, 1999, asking Garcia for additional information concerning his
request and seeking privacy waivers from individuals about whom he had
requested information. Hodes Decl. ¶ 5; Exhibit B. On January 19,
1999, Garcia provided some of the additional information, but informed
the FBI that he believed it was not necessary to
provide privacy waivers. Id. ¶ 6; Exhibit C. Ultimately, however, on
February 1, 1999, Garcia did provide a privacy waiver executed by Debra
Williams, his former girlfriend. Id. ¶ 7; Exhibit D. Subsequently,
on February 18, 1999, the FBI informed Garcia that there were no records
responsive to his request in the Central Records System. Id. ¶ 8;
Exhibit E. On February 26, 1999, Garcia filed an appeal of this
determination with the Department of Justice's Office of Information and
Privacy. Id. ¶ 14; Exhibit K. Prior to Garcia's February 26 letter,
however, the FBI informed Garcia by letter dated February 23, 1999, that
a further search had revealed information responsive to his request. Id.
¶ 9; Exhibit F. On March 18, 1999, the FBI informed Garcia that due
to a large backlog there would be a delay in answering his request. Id.
¶ 10; Exhibit G.
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.
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).
(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.
I. The Legal Standard for Summary Judgment in Actions Brought Pursuant to
To prevail on a motion for summary judgment in an action brought
pursuant to FOIA, the Government has "the burden of showing that its
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 ...