University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Prison Legal News v. Lappin PC-DC-0021
Docket / Court 05-1812 (RBW) ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On August 6, 2006, Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit legal journal devoted to reporting news and litigation concerning detention facilities, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) seeking documents relating to litigation expenses incurred by the BOP ... read more >
On August 6, 2006, Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit legal journal devoted to reporting news and litigation concerning detention facilities, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) seeking documents relating to litigation expenses incurred by the BOP between January 1, 1996 and July 31, 2003. In conjunction with the information request, PLN also asked the BOP to waive all associated search and duplication fees, citing the FOIA provision which required such waiver where "disclosure of the information is in the public interest. . . and not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor." 5 U.S.C. §552(a)(4)(A)(iii).

By letter dated September 9, 2003, the BOP refused to grant the fee waiver on grounds that (a) PLN failed to explain how the information request would be of public interest and (b) PLN's information request was overly broad.

PLN appealed the BOP's decision to the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy (OIP) which, on May 23, 2005, concluded that PLN's request for a fee waiver had properly been denied. Specifically, the OIP concluded that PLN had failed to establish that the request would be of public interest because (a) PLN did not demonstrate that the information would be communicated to the public and (b) the release of the requested information to PLN would not enhance the public's understanding because some of the requested documents were already publicly available.

On September 13, 2005, PLN brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for the BOP's refusal to grant the requested fee waiver under the FOIA's public interest provision. After the parties each moved for summary judgment, the District Court (Judge Reggie B. Walton) issued a June 26, 2006 unpublished Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Defendant's motion and granting Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. Prison Legal News v. Lappin, 436 F. Supp. 2d 17 (D.D.C. 2006).

After concluding that it had jurisdiction over the case, the District Court (Judge Walton) held that PLN had satisfied the FOIA's public interest standard by establishing that the information disclosure was "likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). In so concluding, the court reasoned that the requested documents were not readily available to the public, at least not in a manner which would further public understanding. The court further held that PLN had the intent and ability to disseminate the requested records to the general public, and that Plaintiff's request was reasonably specific. The District Court thereby ordered the BOP to process PLN's request for documents without payment of the costs associated with the search and duplication of the documents.

Plaintiff, PLN, subsequently filed a motion for attorney fees and costs which was ultimately resolved by a September 19, 2006 stipulation between the parties.

Though the docket sheet lists the case as being closed, there appear to be ongoing proceedings in the District Court to enforce the court's June 26, 2006 order requiring Defendant to comply with Plaintiff's FOIA request without Plaintiff's payment of the associated fees.

On August 29, 2006, Defendant filed a response to the June, 2006 order. Therein, Defendant stated that it has decided not to appeal the case, but requested that it be permitted to advise the Court, by September 15, 2006, of the time that would be required for it to process Plaintiff's FOIA request.

The plaintiff subsequently consented to and the District Court granted several motions by Defendant to extend time in which to comply with the court's June 26, 2006 order and Plaintiff's FOIA request. On September 12, 2007, however, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Defendant's tenth request for a further enlargement of time. In this memorandum, Plaintiff also complained that many of the documents that had been released by the BOP contained improper redactions. In the way of relief, Plaintiff requested that the court deny Defendant's Motion for Further Enlargement of Time and impose appropriate sanctions. Plaintiff further requested oral argument on the motion.

On March 28, 2008, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment, and on July 14, 2008, the defendant filed a cross motion for summary judgment. On March 26, 2009, the district court granted the plaintiff's summary judgment motion and denied the defendant's cross motion. The court ordered the defendants to either conduct new searches for the records sought by the plaintiff or to submit an affidavit or alternative submission that adequately demonstrates that the BOP employed search methods reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of records responsive to the plaintiff's request, and that the responsive documents and parts of documents not produced to the plaintiff had properly been withheld under the FOIA exemptions. As of the date of this summary, the docket for this case remains active.

Kristen Sagar - 06/26/2009

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Records Disclosure
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
Defendant(s) Federal Bureau of Prisons
Plaintiff Description A non-profit legal journal devoted to reporting news and litigation concerning detention facilities.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filing Year 2005
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

  Prison Legal News Homepage
Prison Legal News
By: Prison Legal News
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

1:05-cv-01812-RBW (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/03/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief to Obtain Freedom of Information Act Information
PC-DC-0021-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/13/2005
Memorandum Opinion (436 F.Supp.2d 17) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/26/2006
Order [re: Summary Judgment] (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/26/2006
Parties' Stipulation of Attorney's Fees and Costs Payable to Plaintiff and Order (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/17/2006
Defendant's Response to the Court's June 26, 2006 Order
PC-DC-0021-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/29/2006
Plaintiff's Memorandum to Defendant's Latest Motion for a Further Enlargement of Time
PC-DC-0021-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/12/2007
Order [ECF# 60] (603 F.Supp.2d 124) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/26/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 61] (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/26/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 68] (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/25/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 82] (780 F.Supp.2d 29) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/25/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiff's Fifth Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 111]
PC-DC-0021-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/25/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 119] (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/23/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 120] (954 F.Supp.2d 21) (D.D.C.)
PC-DC-0021-0013.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/23/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Walton, Reggie B. (D.D.C., FISC)
PC-DC-0021-0001 | PC-DC-0021-0003 | PC-DC-0021-0004 | PC-DC-0021-0007 | PC-DC-0021-0009 | PC-DC-0021-0010 | PC-DC-0021-0012 | PC-DC-0021-0013 | PC-DC-0021-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cook, Adam K (Vermont)
Elder, Edward J (Virginia)
PC-DC-0021-0002 | PC-DC-0021-0004 | PC-DC-0021-9000
Klimaski, James R (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0021-0006 | PC-DC-0021-9000
London, Ronald G (District of Columbia)
Messineo, Carl L (District of Columbia)
Miller, Lynn Illene (District of Columbia)
Miller, Radhika M.S. (District of Columbia)
Verheyden-Hilliard, Mara E (District of Columbia)
Defendant's Lawyers Contreras, Rudolph (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0021-0004 | PC-DC-0021-0005
Johnson, Wyneva (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0021-0004 | PC-DC-0021-0005 | PC-DC-0021-0006 | PC-DC-0021-0014 | PC-DC-0021-9000
Machen, Ronald C (District of Columbia)
Van Horn, Daniel F (District of Columbia)
Wainstein, Kenneth L. (District of Columbia)
PC-DC-0021-0004 | PC-DC-0021-0005

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