The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
In this case, Plaintiff seeks records from the United States Department of Justice pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552. The matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss or, as appropriate, grant Defendants summary judgment. [Docket Item 11.] The question before the Court is whether either of the exceptions to FOIA invoked by Defendants apply categorically to Plaintiff's request, such that Defendants may deny the entire request before searching for responsive documents.
Plaintiff, Natarajan Venkataram, is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and he is representing himself without counsel. He seeks records from the Department of Justice concerning an individual, D.V.S. Raju, who was his co-defendant in a criminal case, United States v. Venkataram, 06-cr-102 (RPP) (S.D.N.Y. July 16, 2008).
According to the superceding indictment in that criminal case, in the
years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the New
York City Office of the Medical Examiner awarded millions of dollars
in contracts to software companies for work related to the task of
identifying victims of the attacks through the forensic analysis of
body parts and other evidence collected at the World Trade Center
site, and some of this money was reimbursed by the federal government.
[Docket Item 24 ¶2, 06-cr-102 (RPP) (S.D.N.Y.).] Venkataram was a city
official in charge of the Office of the Medical Examiner's acquisition
of software, and D.V.S. Raju was the Chairman and Managing Director of
an India-based software and programming
company. The two men, among others, were charged with a conspiracy
involving the fraudulent awarding of software contracts, as well as
embezzlement, theft, and other offenses related to the conspiracy. The
indictment states that the conspirators wired approximately $6 million
of New York City's funds to D.V.S. Raju on the basis of fraudulent
invoices. [Id. ¶ 13h.]
D.V.S. Raju was subsequently dismissed from the indictment by the
federal prosecutors, and Plaintiff entered a guilty plea. Plaintiff
maintains that Raju's dismissal from the case is suspicious, and wants
to learn about the circumstances surrounding it.*fn1
Plaintiff filed a request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552,*fn2
requesting the following documents:
a. All documents, papers pertaining to Mr. D.V.S. Raju, co-defendant in the criminal case of U.S. v. Venkataram, Case # 06-CR-102(RPP).
b. All justifications, explanations regarding the Nolle-Prosequi given to Mr. D.V.S. Raju.
(Stearns Dec. Ex-A.) The ostensible public interest in these documents is learning why the Department of Justice did not seek to recover the millions of dollars alleged to be wrongfully in Raju's possession, and whether the decision not to prosecute Raju was somehow improper.
The Department of Justice responded to Plaintiff's request, informing him that it is their policy not to confirm or deny that records concerning living third parties exist, that disclosure of such records would violate the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a), and that the records are exempt from release under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C). (Stearns Decl. Ex-B.) Plaintiff appealed that denial using the agency's internal appeals process. The initial decision was affirmed, relying solely on the exceptions at 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C), which are the exceptions pressed by Defendants on this motion. Exception 6 applies to "personnel and medical files and similar files when the disclosure of such information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). Exception 7(C) applies to "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes . . . 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." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C).*fn3
In the present suit, Plaintiff argues that Exceptions 6 and 7(C) do not apply to the records he seeks, because he does not seek "personnel" records, and because the information he seeks could not reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Defendants argue that any responsive document would necessarily damage Mr. Raju's privacy for unwarranted reasons, and therefore that Plaintiff's entire request may be categorically denied.