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Prison Legal News v. Lappin, Freedom of Information Act BOP lawsuit complaint. 2005.

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FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
CIVIL DIVISION
PRISON LEGAL NEWS
2400 NW 80th Street, PMB #148
Seattle, WA 98117,
Plaintiff,
Civil Action No. ______________
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS
320 First St., NW,
Washington, DC 20534,
Defendant.

VERIFIED COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
TO OBTAIN FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT INFORMATION
I. INTRODUCTION
Plaintiff, Prison Legal News (PLN), respectfully submits this Complaint for declaratory
and injunctive relief ordering the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to turn over any and all
material that PLN requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552
(2005).
In an August 6, 2003, letter PLN requested a copy of all documents concerning the
monetary amounts the BOP paid for lawsuits and claims against it between January 1, 1996,
through and including July 31, 2003. PLN also asked for a fee waiver for processing this request
and providing copies of the relevant documents. In a September 9, 2003, letter, the BOP denied
the fee waiver, stating that the request did not meet the threshold for granting the waiver.
II. JURISDICTION.
1.

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2005).

III. PARTIES.
2.

Plaintiff, Prison Legal News, is headquartered in the State of Washington, located at
2400 NW 80th Street PMB #148, Seattle, WA 98117. PLN is a § 501[c](3) non-profit
organization.

3.

Defendant, Federal Bureau of Prisons, is an agency of the United States government,
located at 320 First Street NW, Washington, DC 20534.
IV. FACTS.

4.

PLN reasserts paragraphs 1 to 3.

5.

PLN is a legal journal that reports news and litigation concerning detention facilities.

6.

PLN has published monthly since 1990 and has 4,500 subscribers in all 50 states. PLN’s
subscribers include lawyers, journalists, judges, courts, public libraries and universities.
The estimated actual readership is 36,000. PLN also maintains a website that has
received more than 36,000 visitors a month.

7.

PLN, a § 501[c](3) non-profit organization, is small and underfunded.

8.

On August 6, 2003, PLN requested documents from the BOP pursuant to FOIA, 5 U.S.C.
§ 552 (2005), documenting all money the BOP paid for lawsuits and claims against it
between January 1, 1996, up to and including July 31, 2003. PLN requested a copy of
the verdict or settlement in each case identifying the dollar amount of damages, the
plaintiff’s or claimant’s identity and the identifying information (i.e., names, docket
number, court) for each lawsuit, administrative claim, and/or attorney fee award. PLN
also requested a copy of the complaint or other documents describing the facts of the
case.

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9.

PLN requested a fee waiver for processing its request and providing copies of the
relevant documents.

10.

The BOP is the largest prison system in the country with facilities in almost every state
and approximately 200,000 inmates.

11.

PLN will contribute to the public interest and understanding of BOP operations and
activities by analyzing and publishing the information obtained through this FOIA
request in its print journal and on its website. Specifically, PLN will analyze how the
BOP spends public tax dollars, will publicize BOP facilities in which litigation has
identified problems, and test how well BOP programs address inmate concerns.

12.

On September 9, 2003, the BOP denied PLN’s request for a fee waiver, stating that the
request did not explain why the information was of interest to the public.

13.

On October 20, 2003, PLN appealed the denial of the fee waiver to the United States
Department of Justice (DOJ). In its appeal PLN explained in detail how the requested
information would help the public identify problems in specific BOP facilities and
programs, and provided an important overall measure of program efficiency and
effectiveness within BOP.

14.

On May 23, 2005, the DOJ denied PLN’s appeal. DOJ denied the appeal because PLN
had not “demostrated that it has both the intent and the ability to disseminate the
requested records to the general public.”

15.

5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) grants the right to a fee waiver if it satisfies the following
requirement:
“if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to

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contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of
the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”
16.

PLN satisfies this requirement as it will contribute to the public understanding of BOP
operations and activities by analyzing and publishing the information obtained through
this FOIA request in its print journal and on its website. This request is not primarily in
the commercial interest of PLN as it is a non-profit organization.
V. CAUSE OF ACTION - FAILURE TO WAIVE FEE
RELATING TO FOIA REQUEST

17.

Plaintiff reasserts paragraphs 1 to 16.

18.

As demonstrated in the facts, PLN satisfies the statutory requirement for a 5 U.S.C. §
552(a)(4)(A)(iii) fee waiver.

19.

Therefore, BOP’s September 9, 2003, decision improperly denied PLN’s request
for a fee waiver.
VI. PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, PLN respectfully requests that this Court grant it the following

relief:
A.

Declare that Defendant BOP’s denial of the fee waiver request is unlawful;

B.

Order Defendant BOP to grant the requested fee waiver;

C.

Order Defendant BOP to produce the requested documents within 30 days;

D.

Award PLN its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in this case under 5
U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E);

E.

Grant such further relief as the Court may find just and proper.

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Respectfully submitted,

Dated: _________________

By:
Edward J. Elder
Bar No. 460588
Klimaski & Associates, P.C.
1819 L Street NW
Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
202-296-5600
Attorney for Plaintiff

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VERIFICATION

I, Paul Wright, on behalf of Prison Legal News, have read the above complaint and verify
under penalty of perjury that the facts alleged are true to the best of my knowledge, recollection,
information, and belief.
Executed this 9th day of September, 2005.

______________________________________
Paul Wright
Prison Legal News

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