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Taitz v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 13, 2014

ORLY TAITZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN L. HOLLANDER, District Judge.

In this case, I must determine whether the Social Security Administration ("SSA") complied with the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, when it responded to a FOIA request submitted by Dr. Orly Taitz, plaintiff. In her FOIA request, plaintiff asked for the Social Security application ("SS-5") filed by an individual named Harry Bounel, who allegedly was born in 1890. Plaintiff submitted the FOIA request to confirm her belief that President Barack Obama is fraudulently using Mr. Bounel's Social Security number ("SSN") as his own. See Second Amended Complaint ("SAC, " ECF 20) at 8-16. SSA responded to plaintiff's request by notifying her that it was unable to locate any records for Mr. Bounel.

Plaintiff has filed suit against the Commissioner of the SSA, Carolyn Colvin, alleging that SSA is "defrauding this honorable court in claiming that [it has] no records for Harry Bounel." SAC at 3. She seeks, inter alia, an order requiring SSA to release Mr. Bounel's SS-5.

Presently before the Court is defendant's "Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment" ("Motion, " ECF 28), which was accompanied by a Memorandum of Law ("Memo, " ECF 28-1), and exhibits. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (collectively, "Opp." or "Opposition, " ECF 31), also with exhibits. Defendant filed a Reply in support of her Motion and an opposition to plaintiff's cross-motion ("Def. Reply, " ECF 32), with exhibits, and plaintiff filed a Reply in support of her cross-motion ("Pl. Reply, " ECF 35), also with exhibits.[1] No hearing is necessary is resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will grant summary judgment to defendant.

Factual Summary

On April 26, 2013, plaintiff sent a FOIA request to the SSA office in Baltimore, requesting a copy of the SS-5s for three individuals: Mr. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Mr. Harrison (Harry) J. Bounel, and Ms. Stanley Ann Dunham. See April 26 Letter, ECF 7-2 at ¶¶ 1-3. She also requested "any and all documentation pertaining to any and all payments or aid provided by the Social Security administration" to each of these individuals. Id. In the letter, plaintiff stated that Mr. Bounel was an "immigrant from Russia, born in 1890, arrived in the U.S. in and around 1912, received Social Security number in the state of CT in and around March 28, 1977, SSN xxx-xx-4425."[2] Id. ¶ 2. The letter provided similar types of information regarding the other two individuals. Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.

SSA had not responded to plaintiff's letter when, on June 25, 2013, plaintiff filed suit in this Court requesting, inter alia, an order compelling SSA to produce Mr. Bounel's SS-5. ECF 1 at 3. On July 8, 2013, plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (ECF 3), which was substantively identical to the original complaint. In her suit, plaintiff alleged that Mr. Bounel was born in 1890, and therefore, under the "120 Year Rule' implemented by the SSA in 2010, " pertaining to "extremely aged individuals, '" Bounel's "Social Security applications have to be released under FOIA without proof of [his] death...." Id. ¶ 12.

Dawn S. Wiggins, a Freedom of Information Officer for the SSA, replied to plaintiff's letter on July 29, 2013. See July 29 Letter, ECF 7-3. Wiggins stated, id. at 2-3:

I have enclosed a copy of the SS-5s for Mr. Tsarnaev and Ms. Dunham. We cannot disclose the parents' names listed on Mr. Tsarnaev's application without their written consent or acceptable proof of their death. The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a) provides the guidelines and limitations for disclosing the information you have requested. The information requested is also exempt from disclosure under the FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6)). Exemption 6 of the FOIA does not require agencies to disclose information that would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy....
In response to your request for any and all Social Security benefits received by Mr. Tsarnaev and Ms. Dunham or their dependents, neither Mr. Tsarnaev nor Ms. Dunham had received any Social Security benefits.
We were unable to find any information for Mr. Bounel based on the information you provided to us. Mr. Bounel may not have applied for a Social Security number (SSN) or may have given different information on the application for a number.

On August 14, 2013, defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. ECF 7. Defendant argued that plaintiff's lawsuit had been rendered moot by SSA's response to plaintiff's FOIA request. See ECF 7-1. In her opposition to that motion, plaintiff did not address the mootness argument; instead, plaintiff argued that Wiggins's response to the FOIA request was inadequate. ECF 9. By Memorandum Opinion (ECF 18) and Order (ECF 19) of December 13, 2013, I granted defendant's motion to dismiss, noting, ECF 18 at 5: "If plaintiff takes issue with the adequacy of the SSA's response, she must amend her complaint to add allegations that the SSA's response was deficient."

Thereafter, plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") on January 3, 2014, along with 23 exhibits. ECF 20. The SAC alleges that SSA "did not provide any evidence of [an] adequate search for documents" and that SSA improperly searched the Numident[3] instead of the agency's paper records. See id. at 6-7. In addition, plaintiff alleges that she submitted a new FOIA request on August 8, 2013, regarding Mr. Bounel's SS-5, but that defendant has yet to provide any response, in violation of the FOIA. Id. at 7. And, plaintiff added a request for an order requiring SSA to prepare a Vaughn index, which is an annotated list of documents that an agency has withheld or redacted. See generally Rein v. U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, 553 F.3d 353, 357 n.6 (4th Cir. 2009).

Yet, the SAC strays far beyond the original two complaints; it contains new allegations and requests additional forms of relief. In particular, plaintiff asks the court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3332(a), to allow plaintiff to present to a special grand jury evidence that President Obama has committed multiple criminal acts, including treason and various forms of fraud. Id. at 7-19. The SAC also includes a "request under 28 USC 1002 for examination of the original (wet ink) SS-5 of Harry Bounel in light of evidence of forgery and fraud in other IDs." Id. at 19.

Additional facts will be included in the Discussion.

Standard of Review

As noted, defendant's Motion was styled in the alternative as either a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. In support of the motion for dismissal, defendant notes: "A claim for relief under FOIA becomes moot once an agency produces all the information a plaintiff requested." Memo at 9. Although this legal proposition is true, the very issue in this case is whether SSA in fact produced all the information plaintiff requested. Accordingly, the case is not moot and the motion to dismiss will be denied.

As indicated, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Therefore, my analysis will proceed under the summary judgment standard. Summary judgment is governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It provides, in part: "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In resolving a motion for summary judgment, a district court must view all of the facts, including reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Greater Baltimore Ctr. For Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013); FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013). "A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts'" showing that there is a triable issue. Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1042 (2004); see also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24.

The district court's "function" in resolving a motion for summary judgment is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Notably, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. at 247-48. In other words, "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant... will not be counted." Id. at 248.

If "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, " then a dispute of material fact precludes summary judgment. Id. at 248. In contrast, a court must award summary judgment if the evidence "is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 252. However, "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. And, the court should "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

When, as here, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must consider "each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law.'" Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir.) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 822 (2003). "Both motions must be denied if the court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact. But if there is no genuine issue and one or the other party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law, the court will render judgment." 10A Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2720, at 336-37 (3d ed. 1998, 2012 Supp.).

Discussion

1.

"The Freedom of Information Act was enacted to facilitate public access to Government documents, " U.S. Dep't of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991) (citation omitted), and to vindicate the public's right to know "what their government is up to." U.S. Dep't of Justice v Reporters Comm. for Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 773 (1989) (quotation marks omitted); see also Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, ___ F.3d. ___, Civ. No. 12-5223, 2014 WL 1284811, at *1-2 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 1, 2014); Long v. Office of Pers. Mgmt., 692 F.3d 185, 193 (2d Cir. 2012); Yonemoto v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 686 F.3d 681, 694 (9th Cir. 2012). Consistent with this objective, FOIA requires that "each [federal] agency, upon any request for records which (i) reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any) and procedures to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A).

An agency responding to a FOIA request must conduct a search "reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents'" and, if challenged, must demonstrate "beyond material doubt'" that the search was reasonable. Elliott v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 596 F.3d 842, 851 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). "The issue is not whether any further documents might conceivably exist but rather whether the government's search for responsive documents was adequate." Perry v. Block, 684 F.2d 121, 128 (D.C. Cir. 1982); accord Moffat v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 716 F.3d 244, 254 (1st Cir. 2013) cert. denied, ...


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