United States District Court, W.D. Virginia
Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge.
Brian David Hill challenges Defendants', the Executive
Office for the United States Attorneys (“EOUSA”)
and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), response
to his Freedom of Information Act request. Defendants have
filed a motion for summary judgment which has been fully
briefed by the parties. Both parties consented to a decision
on the briefs and without oral argument. I have reviewed the
evidence, argument, and applicable law; the matter is now
ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, I will
grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL
was indicted on November 25, 2013, in the Middle District of
North Carolina for possession of child pornography.
(United States v. Hill, No. 1:13-cr-00435 (M.D. N.C.
Nov. 25, 2013) [ECF No. 1]). Plaintiff entered into a plea
agreement and pleaded guilty to the single count of the
Indictment on June 10, 2014. (Id. [ECF No. 20].) As
part of the plea agreement, Plaintiff agreed that he pleaded
guilty “because he is, in fact guilty . . . .”
(Id. [ECF No. 20 ¶ 4].) On November 10, 2014,
Plaintiff was sentenced to ten months and twenty days.
(Id. [ECF No. 54].)
before he was sentenced, Plaintiff was asserting his
innocence and attempting to withdraw his guilty plea.
(See, e.g., id. [ECF No. 38].) At his
guilty plea, however, his attorney advised that Plaintiff did
not want to withdraw his plea. After his sentencing,
Plaintiff continued his campaign to prove his “legal
innocence.” (See, e.g., id. [ECF No.
60].) This case represents his latest attempt in that
25, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) request to the EOUSA, seeking “any
copies of email records, documents, memos, fax records,
digital records, voice messages . . . in reference to
‘Brian David Hill' and any cases or research
involving ‘Brian David Hill between the dates, January
2012 to August 2012.” (Decl. of Princina Stone ¶
5, Dec. 22, 2017 [ECF No. 49-1].) The request was referred to
Princina Stone, an attorney-advisor with FOIA staff for EOUSA
and DOJ. (Id. ¶ 1.) On August 12, 2016, Stone
asked the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle
District of North Carolina (“MDNC”) to conduct a
search for records that were responsive to Plaintiff's
request. (Id. ¶ 6.)
Loye, the MDNC's FOIA liaison, received the EOUSA's
search request and conducted the search for records
responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request. (Carolyn Loye
Decl. ¶¶ 2-4, Dec. 21, 2017 [ECF No. 49-10].) Loye:
[E]mailed all employees advising them of the FOIA request and
asking them to search for any documents related to Mr. Hill.
[She] also searched [the] office electronic recording keeping
system for any records related to Mr. Hill. That system
contains all files opened in the . . . MDNC, including those
that have been closed. [She] searched the system under the
last name “Hill, ” with first name
“Brian”[, ] as well as under last name
“Hill” and first initial “B”.
(Id. ¶ 5.) Her search revealed two case files:
one for Plaintiff's initial prosecution, and a second for
Plaintiff's pro se appeal of his conviction to
the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (Id.
¶ 6.) Loye also consulted with Anand Ramaswamy, the
assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Plaintiff.
(Id. ¶ 7.) Ramaswamy turned over his case files
and Loye “separated out all non-public responsive
September 5, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter seeking to modify
his FOIA request. (Stone Decl. ¶ 9.) His modified
request sought records from U.S. Attorney for the Middle
District of North Carolina, Ripley Rand, as well as Assistant
U.S. Attorney Anand Ramaswamy. (Id. ¶ 10, Ex. 5
[ECF No. 49-6].) He also requested a “Fee Waiver”
“on the specific ground of investigating the truth to
help prove that [he] was ‘framed' with possession
of child pornography to be found Actually Innocent.”
(Id.) He further requested that the responding
agency “not search beyond two hours, nor duplicate
beyond 100 pages.” (Id.) He also asserted that
he would pay up to $75.00 for search time. (Id.)
September 12, 2016, Loye notified EOUSA that she had
completed the search on behalf of the MDNC and forwarded the
results, on CD, to EOUSA. (Id. ¶ 13.) EOUSA
reviewed the records provided by MDNC and disclosed 68 pages
in full and 26 pages in part to Plaintiff. (Id.
¶ 14.) On February 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed an
administrative appeal with the Office of Information Policy
(“OIP”) regarding EOUSA's response to his
FOIA request. (Id. ¶ 15.) On June 29, 2017, OIP
affirmed EOUSA's determination regarding Plaintiff's
FOIA request. (See id. ¶ 16; Ex. 8 [ECF No.
49-9].) OIP informed Plaintiff that it determined
“EOUSA's response [to Plaintiff's FOIA request]
was correct and that it conducted an adequate, reasonable
search for responsive records subject to the FOIA.”
(Id. Ex. 8.)
OIP's determination, Stone reviewed the MDNC records
again. (Id. ¶ 19.) Upon further review, Stone
“determined that further previously withheld
information contained in four of the 26 released in part
pages could be disclosed to [P]laintiff. Consequently, on
September 23, 2017, EOUSA sent [P]laintiff a supplemental
response and released in part additional information from the
four pages.” (Id. ¶ 19.)
also prepared a Vaughn index which includes a
listing of all undisclosed information, a narrative
description of the information, and a statement of
EOUSA's claimed exemption. In virtually every instance,
EOUSA asserts that the only thing that was not
disclosed on the released-in-part pages were the names and
badge numbers of Mayodan law enforcement officers. (See
id. Ex. 1.) Also excluded from disclosure were the names
of witnesses, telephone numbers of Mayodan law enforcement
officers, names of state district attorneys, and legal
strategies related to Plaintiff's criminal case. (See
id.) In withholding this information, EOUSA has relied
exclusively on Exemptions 6 and 7(C) (see id.
¶¶ 23-24, 26, Ex. 1), found in 5 U.S.C. §
552(b), which exclude disclosure of information that would
constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal
with content of EOUSA's disclosures, Plaintiff brought
suit in this Court on April 25, 2017. Following
Plaintiff's unsuccessful interlocutory appeal of a
discovery ruling by the magistrate judge, see Hill v.
Exec. Office for U.S. Attorneys, et al., 699 F.
App'x 188 (4th Cir. Oct. 19, 2017) (per curiam)
(unpublished), EOUSA and DOJ moved for summary judgment on
December 22, 2017. [ECF Nos. 48, 49.] Plaintiff responded
with a brief in opposition on January 3, 2018. [ECF No. 53].
EOUSA and DOJ replied [ECF No. 60], and the parties submitted
the issue for decision on brief and without oral argument.
(See Pl.'s ...