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Warren v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 12, 2014

GREGORY WARREN, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, in her individual and official capacities, SHERYLL ZIPORKIN, Associate Commissioner of Social Security Administration, in her individual and official capacities, Social Security Administration, Defendants - Appellees. [*]

Submitted March 5, 2014.

Plaintiff-appellant Gregory Warren appeals from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northen District of New York (Thomas J. McAvoy, Senior Judge) dismissing his claim for damages and litigation fees under the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552. Because the Privacy Act guarantees access only to an individual's own records and does not require federal agencies to provide information pertaining to a requesting individual that is contained in another individual's records, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal of Warren's claim for damages under the Privacy Act. Because FOIA, as amended, allows for fee shifting where a federal agency voluntarily complies with a requested disclosure following the filing of a FOIA lawsuit, we VACATE that portion of the district court's judgment denying Warren's request for litigation costs, and REMAND the case to the district court with instruction to award those costs.

AFFIRMED IN PART AND VACATED AND REMANDED IN PART.

Gregory Warren, Pro se, Bronx, New York.

Paula Ryan Conan, Assistant United States Attorney (William F. Larkin, Assistant United States Attorney, on the brief), for Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Syracuse, New York.

Before: PARKER, LYNCH, and DRONEY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 842

Per Curiam:

Plaintiff-appellant Gregory Warren appeals from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Thomas J. McAvoy, Senior Judge ) dismissing his claim for damages and litigation fees under the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Because the Privacy Act guarantees access only to an individual's own records and does not require federal agencies to provide information that pertains to a requesting individual, but is contained in another individual's records, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal of Warren's claim for damages under the Privacy Act. Because FOIA, as amended, allows for fee shifting where, as here, a federal agency voluntarily complies with a requested disclosure following the filing of a FOIA lawsuit, we VACATE that portion of the district court's judgment denying Warren's request for litigation costs, and REMAND the case to the district court with instructions to award Warren $350 in litigation costs.

BACKGROUND

Beginning in January 2008, Warren repeatedly sought to obtain records from the Social Security Administration (" SSA" ) related to his late father's disability status. Warren wanted the records to support his effort to obtain the proceeds of his father's

Page 843

life insurance policy. In January 2012, following a series of nonresponsive communications from the SSA, Warren commenced this action, pro se.[1] The complaint alleged that the failure to provide the requested records violated FOIA and the Privacy Act. Warren sought injunctive relief to compel the release of the records, compensatory and punitive damages, and reimbursement of litigation fees under both statutes.[2]

In August 2012, the SSA voluntarily provided the requested records to Warren, who consequently abandoned his request for injunctive relief. Warren continued to seek damages and litigation fees, however, and the defendants moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss his remaining ...


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