The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCGLYNN
This action was instituted by Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., publishers of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and William S. Vance, of the Inquirer's Washington Bureau, to compel Maurice H. Sigler, Chairman of the United States Board of Parole to disclose, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (Act), 5 U.S.C. § 552, thirty-nine letters recommending the parole of Maurice S. Osser (Osser).
The undisputed facts are that on February 14, 1975, Osser was granted parole from prison and that on February 28, 1975, plaintiffs, citing the pertinent provisions of the Act, made a formal request for the disclosure of "all letters and records of communications to the Board by individuals supporting and opposing Mr. Osser's parole", which request was denied by defendant Sigler on March 17, 1975, upon the grounds that disclosure of the letters would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and would reveal the identity of persons considered by the Board to be confidential sources. Sigler cited as a basis for this denial the exemptions to the Act found in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6)-(7), and the regulations issued pursuant thereto, 28 C.F.R. § 2.57 (b), which purport to establish Board of Parole policy regarding the confidentiality of communications to the Board.
Shortly thereafter, the Board released thirty-nine letters it had received recommending Osser's parole but with the authors' signatures and all other identifying materials deleted. Plaintiffs continue to seek disclosure of the letters in their unexpurgated form, and have filed a motion for summary judgment which is presently before the Court.
The basic facts are not in dispute and therefore the matter is ripe for summary judgment. For the reasons hereinafter stated, judgment will be granted in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants.
The precise issue is whether the identities of the thirty-nine letter writers are exempt from disclosure under § 552(b)(6), (7)(C) or (7)(D).
Exemptions from disclosure should be narrowly construed
and the burden is upon the Government to establish that the materials sought fall within the narrowly construed exemptions. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (1975).
Subsection (b)(6) exempts from disclosure "personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The threshold question in regard to this exemption is whether the letters can be construed to be "similar files" within the meaning of the exemption.
In Wine Hobby USA, Inc. v. United States Internal Revenue Service, 502 F.2d 133 (3d Cir. 1974), the Court stated:
"Since the thrust of the exemption is to avoid unwarranted invasions of privacy, the term 'files' should not be given an interpretation that would often preclude inquiry into this more crucial question."
502 F.2d at 135. (footnote omitted)
The Court pointed out that "the common denominator in 'personnel and medical and similar files' is the personal quality of information in the file, the disclosure of which may constitute a ...