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Frankenberry v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

April 7, 2010

JOSEPH P. FRANKENBERRY PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION AND U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MAGISTRATE JUDGE MANNION

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Magistrate Mannion's Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of January, 29 2010 (Doc. 49) and Plaintiff Joseph P. Frankenberry's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's R&R (Doc. 52). Magistrate Judge Mannion recommended that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be dismissed as originally premature and now moot, that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, that Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order/Preliminary Injunction be denied, and that Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel be denied as moot. This Court will adopt in part and reject Magistrate Judge Mannion's recommendation and recommit the case to Magistrate Judge Mannion for the reasons set forth more fully below.

BACKGROUND

On November 16, 2006, Plaintiff sent a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA")/Privacy Act request to FBI Headquarters. (Doc. 31, Ex. A.) He requested all records pertaining to his previous criminal trial, as well as statements, interviews, photographs, and taped conversations pertaining to "all defendants who plead guilty to the Armed-Robbery of Platinum cobalt (sic) Alloy, valued [at] $260,000 from Lancaster Metal Science Corp... on January 7, 1980." (Doc. 31, Ex. A.) He also sought any records in the possession of the FBI regarding his criminal proceedings in state court. (Doc. 31, Ex A.)

On December 16, 2006, the FBI acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's FOIA request and assigned him a Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts request number ("FOIPA number"). (Doc. 31, Ex. B.) On May 10, 2007, Plaintiff was informed that the FBI had performed a search for the documents he had requested that produced 321 documents, only 267 of which were to be released; the remaining documents were deleted "to protect information which is exempt from disclosure, with the appropriate exemptions noted on the page next to the excision." (Doc. 31, Ex. C.) Plaintiff administratively appealed the FBI's release and deletion of the documents on May 21, 2007. (Doc. 1.) The FBI never responded to the appeal,*fn1 and Plaintiff filed the Complaint in the instant suit on August 21, 2008, alleging violations of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. §§ 552, 552a. (Doc. 1.)

Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 13, 2009. (Doc. 20.) Defendants also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on October 8, 2009. (Doc. 29.) Along with their motion and brief, Defendants submitted a Vaughn index*fn2 written by David M. Hardy, Section Chief of Record/Information Dissemination Section. (Doc. 31.) The Hardy Declaration explained the FBI's Central Records System and a summary of the "justification categories" for the exclusions, deletions, and excisions made in the records. (Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 11-24.) For each exemption claimed under the FOIA, the Hardy Declaration generally gave a one or two paragraph explanation of the exemption, made broad claims that the exemption applied to the documents sought by Plaintiff, and then referenced the pages where the exemption was claimed. (Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 25-60). The Hardy Declaration was accompanied by the documents that Plaintiff requested, with the exempted portions deleted and a corresponding reference to the exemption cited for that deletion. (See Doc. 31, Ex. C.)

In addition, Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction seeking to enjoin the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections from removing legal reference materials from the main law library in the state correctional institution where he is located. (Doc. 45). Plaintiff also filed a Motion to Appoint Counsel. (Doc. 48.)

On January 29, 2010, Magistrate Judge Mannion issued an R & R recommending that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be dismissed as premature, that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted, that Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order/Preliminary Injunction be denied, and that Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel be denied as moot. (Doc. 49.) Magistrate Judge Mannion's recommendation was based primarily on his finding that the Defendants had undertaken a search that was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents, but did not discuss whether the Defendants proffered reasons for excluding certain information was justified.

On February 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Objections to the R & R; these objections centered around Plaintiff's claim that the Defendants had not turned over other relevant documents that they have in their possession and various failures to include certain procedural facts in the R & R. (Doc. 52.) On March 12, 2010, Defendants filed their Brief in Opposition to the Objections. (Doc. 55). Therefore, this matter is fully briefed and currently ripe for disposition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Where objections to the magistrate judge's report are filed, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c)), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In making its de novo review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the Court to rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7; Ball v. United States Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the Court should review uncontested portions for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F. Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998).

DISCUSSION

1. Defendants' Motion for ...


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