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Braun v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

December 28, 2016



          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court are: (1) Plaintiff David Braun's Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 motion for summary judgment, and (2) Defendant Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) cross motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. For the reasons discussed, the Court recommends the FBI's motion be granted, and this action be dismissed.

         I. Background

         Braun, appearing pro se, commenced this action against the FBI asserting claims under the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a et seq. He seeks to obtain information and documents in the FBI's possession concerning unspecified investigations. Specifically, by letter dated May 21, 2015, Braun requested “all records off [sic] investigations generated buy [sic] contacts with the FBI over the years.” (Doc. 2-1 at 1.) In his letter, Braun referenced his prior requests for records, and requested that the FBI update its search of pertinent records for new documents.

         On January 29, 2016, the FBI identified 119 pages of documents that it reviewed in response to Braun's request, and it released 88 pages of those documents. In withholding the remainder of the documents, the FBI identified various legal exemptions for not producing those documents.

         Braun appealed the FBI's decision to withhold various documents. Ultimately, the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy affirmed the FBI's decision.

         On September 7, 2016, the FBI disclosed additional documents to Braun in response to his request. As a result, the FBI decided to release a total of 108 pages of the original 119 pages it reviewed. In its September 7, 2016 letter the FBI again identified various provisions of law justifying its decision to withhold or redact certain information and documents. (Doc. 40-8.)

         The FBI moves for summary judgment dismissing this action on the ground that it has produced to Braun all the documents to which Braun is entitled to receive under both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (FOIA). For the reasons discussed, the Court agrees the FBI has satisfied its disclosure obligations.

         II. Applicable Law - Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) entitles a party to summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Betz v. Trainer Wortham & Co., Inc., 504 F.3d 1017, 1020-21 (9th Cir. 2007).

         When presented with cross-motions for summary judgment on the same matters, the court must “evaluate each motion separately, giving the non-moving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences.” American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada v. City of Las Vegas, 333 F.3d 1092, 1097 (9th Cir. 2003).

         Finally, because Braun is proceeding pro se the Court must construe his documents liberally and give them “the benefit of any doubt” with respect to the FBI's summary judgment motion. Frost v. Symington, 197 F.3d 348, 352 (9th Cir. 1999). See also Erickson v. Pardus 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         III. Discussion

         The FBI believes the records responsive to Braun's request are documents “compiled in the course of the FBI's investigation of [Braun's] possible involvement with threats against judges, law enforcement and U.S. Postal Service workers.” (Doc. 38 at 2.) But in its summary judgment motion the FBI argues it has complied with its obligations to produce the information and documents as imposed under the Privacy Act and FOIA. Specifically, it argues (1) Braun has no viable claim for relief under the Privacy Act, and (2) the legal exemptions set forth in FOIA support its decision to withhold several documents from disclosure to Braun.

         Braun's summary judgment motion asserts the FBI has unlawfully withheld or redacted information and documents. He argues generally, and without evidentiary support, that he is entitled to summary judgment requiring the FBI to produce all of the documents to him.

         A. Privacy Act

         In general, the purpose of the Privacy Act is “to ‘protect the privacy of individuals' through regulation of the ‘collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information' by federal agencies.” Rouse v. United States Department of State, 567 F.3d 408, 413 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The Privacy Act permits individuals to pursue civil remedies against a federal agency in limited circumstances to enforce the agency's compliance with the requirements of the Act. Id. One available remedy is a legal action under authority of 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(d)(1) and 552a(g)(1)(B) to gain access to information maintained by an agency. Id. at 413-414.

         The Privacy Act, however, imposes limitations on, or exemptions from, an agency's obligation to produce documents. Specifically, the Privacy Act exempts from disclosure specifically identified records maintained by an agency “which performs as its principal function any activity pertaining to the enforcement of criminal laws[, ]” and the statute permits agencies to promulgate regulations pertaining to the exempt records. 5 U.S.C. § 552a(j)(2). The Department of Justice, within which the FBI operates, has exempted from disclosure law enforcement investigative records maintained in the Central Records System. 28 C.F.R. § 16.96(a)(1).

         The FBI submitted the declaration of David Hardy, a Section Chief responsible for maintaining FBI records. Hardy asserts the specific records the FBI withheld from production from Braun were criminal investigation documents maintained in the Central Records System and, therefore, are exempt from ...

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