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 After the parties each moved for summary judgment, the District Court (Judge Reggie B. Walton) issued a June 26, 2006 unpublished Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Defendant's motion and granting Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.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