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Prison Legal News v. Samuels

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 5, 2015

PRISON LEGAL NEWS, APPELLANT
v.
CHARLES E. SAMUELS, JR., DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, APPELLEE

Argued: January 14, 2015.

Page 1143

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1144

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:05-cv-01812).

Ronald G. London argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Lisa B. Zycherman and Lance Weber.

Bruce D. Brown, Gregg P. Leslie, Bruce W. Sandford, Laurie A. Babinski, Peter Scheer and Charles D. Tobin were on the brief for amici curiae The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, et al. in support of appellant.

Wyneva Johnson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence and Alan Burch, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

Before: HENDERSON, Circuit Judge, and WILLIAMS and RANDOLPH, Senior Circuit Judges. OPINION filed by Senior Circuit Judge RANDOLPH.

OPINION

Page 1145

Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge.

The efforts of Prison Legal News (" PLN" ) to obtain documents from the Federal Bureau of Prisons are chronicled in the four district court opinions preceding this appeal. See Prison Legal News v. Samuels, 954 F.Supp.2d 21 (D.D.C. 2013); Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 780 F.Supp.2d 29 (D.D.C. 2011); Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 603 F.Supp.2d 124 (D.D.C. 2009); Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 436 F.Supp.2d 17 (D.D.C. 2006). PLN publishes a legal journal devoted to news and litigation concerning detention facilities. In 2003, PLN filed a Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ) request with the Federal Bureau of Prisons seeking all documents showing money the Bureau paid in connection with lawsuits and claims brought against it between January 1, 1996, and July 31, 2003. PLN also sought a waiver of any fees associated with the request. Prison Legal News v. Samuels, 954 F.Supp.2d at 24; Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 436 F.Supp.2d at 18-19.

The Bureau produced no records and denied the fee waiver. After PLN brought suit in 2005, the Bureau produced approximately 11,000 pages of documents, of which 2,993 contained redactions. Prison Legal News v. Samuels, 954 F.Supp.2d at 24-25. The Bureau provided affidavits, declarations, and Vaughn indices in support of the redactions.[1] Id. at 24-25. PLN challenged the basis for the redactions and the adequacy of the Bureau's search for responsive documents. The district court ruled that the Bureau had conducted an adequate search, but that the Bureau had not justified the redactions. See Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 780 F.Supp.2d at 41-45.

After multiple cross-motions for summary judgment, 102 or so documents remained at issue. Prison Legal News v. Samuels, 954 F.Supp.2d at 25 & n.5.[2] The Bureau provided an updated Vaughn index (the Stroble Vaughn index), and the parties crossfiled for summary judgment once again. The updated Vaughn index indicated that the Bureau applied both FOIA exemptions 6[3] and 7(C)[4] to support the remaining redactions.

Page 1146

The district court granted the Bureau's cross-motion for summary judgment, holding that the Stroble Vaughn index supported application of FOIA exemption 6. In reaching that conclusion, the court first noted that the requested documents include names and personal information and so " easily fall under the purview of an individual's 'interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters.'" Id. at 29 (quoting Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of Justice, 365 F.3d 1108, 1125, 361 U.S.App.D.C. 183 (D.C. Cir. 2004)). The court proceeded to balance this interest against the public interest in disclosure, finding that the Bureau's categorical explanation for the redactions supported application of exemption 6. Id. at 29-31; see also Horowitz v. Peace Corps, 428 F.3d 271, 278, 368 U.S.App.D.C. 192 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Wash. Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't of ...


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