The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey T. Miller, United States District Judge.
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS'
MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT; ORDER UNSEALING
Defendants United States Department of Interior ("DOI") and the Bureau
of Indian Affairs ("BIA") move to dismiss Plaintiffs' Freedom of
Information Act ("FOIA") complaint or, alternatively, move for summary
judgment. Plaintiffs Rodney and Almeda Starkey oppose the motion.
Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(d)(1), this matter is appropriate for decision
without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for
summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. The court also
orders that the documents placed under seal pursuant to this court's
October 25, 2002 order be unsealed.
Plaintiff Rodney Starkey is the owner of ranch property located near
the town of Boulevard, California, approximately 60 miles east of San
Diego. The property is adjacent to property held in trust for the benefit
of the La Posta Band of Mission Indians ("La Posta"). The BIA manages the
La Posta property and is hereinafter referred to as the "trust"
property. In order to obtain access to
Plaintiffs' property, Mr. Starkey obtained an easement across property
then known as the Spencer property and subsequently purchased by La Posta
(the "fee" property). The easement constitutes the sole ingress and
egress to the Starkey property
Prior to 2000 several sand mining operations were conducted on both the
trust and fee properties. In 2000, Plaintiffs learned that a new and
expanded mining operation would be conducted on the trust property using
the fee property as access to the trust property. There are currently no
mining operations being conducted on the La Posta property because the
last operator, Four Eagle, LLP, terminated its operations and filed for
bankruptcy in December 2001. Plaintiffs are concerned about two proposed
actions pending before the BIA: an expansion of the sand mining operation
and an application by La Posta to transfer the fee property into trust.
Plaintiffs made several requests to Defendants for information pursuant
to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). Defendants released numerous
documents but have withheld some documents in their entirety and redacted
others. Defendants claim that their actions are supported by appropriate
FOIA exemptions. Plaintiffs filed the present action to compel production
of documents related to their several FOIA requests.
Summary Judgment Standards
A motion for summary judgment shall be granted where "there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c); British
Airways Bd. v. Beoing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 1978), cert
denied, 440 U.S. 981 (1979). The moving party bears the initial burden of
informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those
portions of the file which it believes demonstrates the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986). There is "no express or implied
requirement in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with
affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim."
Id. (emphasis in original). The opposing party cannot rest on the mere
allegations or denials of a pleading, but must "go beyond the pleadings
and by [the party's] own affidavits, or by the `depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file' designate `specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct.
At 2553 (citation omitted). The opposing party also may not rely solely
on conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data. Taylor v. List,
880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).
The court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82
S.Ct. 993, 994 (1962). Any doubt as to the existence of any issue of
material fact requires denial of the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). On
a motion for summary judgment, when
"`the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, it must come
forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the
evidence were uncontroverted at trial.'" Houghton v. South, 965 F.2d 1532,
1536 (9th Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original) (quoting International
Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir.
1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1059 (1992)).
The basic purpose of FOIA "is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to
the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against
corruption and to hold the governors-accountable to the governed." NLRB
v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978). To that end,
the district court has "jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from
withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency
records improperly withheld from the complainant." 5 U.S.C. § 522
(a)(4)(B). Under this provision, federal jurisdiction is dependent "upon
a showing that an agency has (1) improperly; (2) withheld; (3) agency
records." Kissinger v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press,
445 U.S. 136, 150 (1980); Spurlock v. FBI, 69 F.3d 1010, 1016 (9th Cir.
While FOIA is known as a disclosure statute, Congress recognized that
there are legitimate governmental and private interests which could be
harmed by release of certain information. See FBI v. Abramson,
456 U.S. 615, 630-31 (1982). FOIA expressly recognizes "that public
disclosure is not always in the public interest and consequently provides
that agency records may be withheld from disclosure under any one of the
nine exemptions defined in 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)." Baldridge v.
Shapiro, 455 U.S. 345, 352 (1982). There are certain "types of
information that the Executive Branch must have the option to keep
confidential . . . ." Dep't of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361
To resolve issues regarding the adequacy of the disclosure, summary
judgment is generally the appropriate procedural vehicle because "the
law, rather than the facts, is the only matter in dispute." Raytheon
Aircraft Fco. v. United States ...