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Francis Steiniger v. Internal Revenue Service

February 15, 2011

FRANCIS STEINIGER,
PLAINTIFF
v.
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, EXECUTIVE:
OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: The Honorable Jed S. Rakoff, U.S.D.J

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

TO

Francis Steiniger brings this action pro se pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking documents within the custody of the defendants, the Internal Revenue Service (the "IRS") and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (the "EOUSA"). He also appears to assert a claim for damages based on the defendants' alleged failure to respond properly to his requests. The defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the motion be granted.

Background

In a letter dated May 17, 2004 and captioned "Freedom of Information Act Request," Mr. Steiniger requested that the IRS provide: copies of the specific tax years of 1984, 1985, 1990, 1991, of 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, the specific type of tax is individual, employment, estate, inheritance tax, related to past and present trust funds tax what I owe or the government owes *fn1 me under my social security number [REDACTED]-9161. (Declaration of Carlton W. King dated Aug. 24, 2010 ("King Decl."), ¶ 5 & Exh. A). The plaintiff's request was received by the Brooklyn, New York Disclosure Office of the IRS and assigned to Disclosure Specialist Inez Fye. (King Decl., ¶ 6). She conducted searches of the IRS Integrated Data Retrieval System using Mr. Steiniger's social security number in an attempt to locate relevant information. (King Decl., ¶¶ 7-8, 11). These searches yielded no responsive documents, and the IRS notified the plaintiff of the results. (King Decl., ¶¶ 4, 7, 9).

Mr. Steiniger then filed an appeal, stating "I just want a defin[i]tive answer from the I.R.S. I owe no taxes or the I.R.S. owes me in order to better prepare for an upcoming Federal Court case." (King Decl., Exh. C). The IRS Appeals Office denied the appeal and advised the plaintiff that the IRS "cannot address your question of balance due and/or refunds exist. We can only address whether the search was reasonable." (King Decl., Exh. D). The IRS also conducted a further search for responsive documents, which waslikewise futile. (King Decl., ¶ 10).

Mr. Steiniger submitted another FOIA request, this one dated December 11, 2003, and directed to the EOUSA. It asked for "detail information" concerning my fina[nci]al background including my ownership of 97 ac[re]s of New York State Land "discovered" by the Federal government in a 1995-1996 criminal case People v. Francis Steiniger Judge Peter K. [Leisure] United States District Court Southern District of New York also a civil case United States District Court Southern District of New York Docket # 01 Civ. 0515 Chief Judge Michael B. Mukasey. I am requesting all financial records that the United States government in its entirety is holding on me and my social security number [REDACTED]-9161[.] The F.B.I. the United States Probation Departme[nt] for the Southern District of New York, the Federal Defenders Legal Aide for the Southern District of New York, the Internal Rev[enu]e Service and the United Sates Southern District Federal Court itself espe[c]ially pertaining my ownership of 97 acres of Land in New York S[t]ate. (Declaration of Dione Jackson Stearns dated Sept. 20, 2010 ("Stearns Decl."), Exh. A). Because the plaintiff did not provide required evidence of his identity, this request was rejected. (Stearns Decl., ¶ 8 & Exh. B). He then submitted a renewed request accompanied by the necessary identity information. (Stearns Decl., ¶ 9 & Exh. C). He stated:

Once again I am requesting any and all records you have on me and my social security number [REDACTED]-9161 concerning a 1995-1996 criminal case against me my Judge was Peter K. Leisure United States District Court Southern District of New York. Especially all knowledge of my financial background the government investigated. (Stearns Decl., Exh. C).

Mr. Steiniger's request was forwarded by EOUSA to the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where it was assigned to an FOIA contact person, Michelle Smith. (Declaration of Michelle R. Smith dated July 27, 2010 ("Smith Decl."), ¶¶ 2, 4). Ms. Smith ran a search in the Legal Information Network System ("LIONS"), and although she was able to identify Mr. Steiniger's criminal case, she could not locate the case file in the Federal Records Center or elsewhere. (Smith Decl., ¶¶ 5, 7-8). EOUSA advised the plaintiff that its search had not recovered any responsive records. (Stearns Decl., ¶ 11 & Exh. E). Mr. Steiniger appealed to the Office of Information Privacy (now known as the Office of Information Policy), and that office advised him that any responsive documents were missing. (Stearns Decl., ¶¶ 12, 14 & Exh. H).

Mr. Steiniger commenced the instant litigation in January 2010. Thereafter, the United States Attorney's Office conducted another search and located potentially responsive records in July 2010. (Smith Decl., ¶ 10). On September 20, 2010, after EOUSA reviewed these documents, it produced 52 pages in full and 24 pages with redactions, withholding 27 pages in their entirety based on exemptions in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3), (5), (6), and (7)(C); 5 U.S.C. App. § 107(a)(2); and Rule 32(d)(3) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Stearns Decl., ¶ 16 & Exh. I). EOUSA also provided Mr. Steiniger with a Vaughn Index,*fn2 identifying the basis for withholding or redacting the 51 pages of documents. (Stearns Decl., ¶ 16 & Exh. J).

Thereafter, the defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. In response, Mr. Steiniger submitted papers consisting of notices of motion, affirmations, and attached documents, all of which appear to be intended to support his opposition to the defendants' motion.

Discussion

The FOIA is designed "to promote honest and open government and to assure the existence of an informed citizenry to hold the governors accountable to the governed." Grand Central Partnership, Inc. v. Cuomo, 166 F.3d 473, 478 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). At the same time, the FOIA "represents a balance struck by Congress between the public's right to know and the government's legitimate interest in keeping certain information confidential." Center for National Security Studies v. United States Department of Justice, 331 F.3d 918, 925 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

Generally, FOIA cases are determined on summary judgment. See Amnesty International USA v. CIA, No. 07 Civ. 5435, 2008 WL 2519908, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. June 19, 2008); Associated Press v. United States Department of Justice, No. 06 ...


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