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Glomar Response to Prisoner’s FOIA Request Insufficient

On February 28, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer denied a summary judgment motion filed by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit challenging the BOP’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of disciplinary records related to a former BOP employee.

Monroe L. Coleman, a federal prisoner, submitted a FOIA request to the BOP for all investigative and disciplinary records related to Kimberley Moore, a former BOP staff member at United States Penitentiary Big Sandy who had been “terminated for indulging in wrongful acts.” In response to Coleman’s request, the BOP refused to confirm or deny the existence of the requested records, a so-called “Glomar” response. Dissatisfied, Coleman sued the BOP.

A Glomar response may be invoked when “to confirm or deny the existence of records ... would cause harm cognizable” under a FOIA exemption. In Coleman’s case, the BOP relied on Exemption 7(C), which protects from disclosure “records or information complied for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information ... could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The BOP argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the records requested by Coleman constituted law enforcement records within the scope of Exemption 7(C) based on “Moore’s status as a law enforcement officer or as a former employee of an agency with a law enforcement function.” The district court disagreed. Moore’s employment status alone, the court held, did not establish “a rational nexus between the investigation at issue and the agency’s law enforcement duties.”

Accordingly, the district court denied the BOP’s motion for summary judgment without prejudice to the filing of a renewed motion for summary judgment. See: Coleman v. Lappin, 535 F.Supp.2d 96 (D.D.C. 2008).

Following the adverse ruling, the BOP acknowledged the existence of 164 pages of records responsive to Coleman’s FOIA request, but sought to redact or withhold information from 122 of those pages under various FOIA exemptions. On March 18, 2009, the district court granted in part and denied in part the BOP’s third motion for summary judgment.

The district court upheld the BOP’s decision to withhold or redact certain information from the records based on FOIA Exemptions 2 and 6, and found the records were compiled for law enforcement purposes under Exemption 7. However, the BOP had failed to provide sufficient evidence that harm would result due to release of the records under Exemptions 7(C), 7(E) and 7(F) or combinations thereof, and thus summary judgment was denied as to those exemptions. See: Coleman v. Lappin, 607 F.Supp.2d 15 (D.D.C. 2009).

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Coleman v. Lappin

Coleman v. Lappin