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November 15, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey T. Miller, United States District Judge.


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.


Legal Standards

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)).

FOIA Standards

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. 1995).

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 (1976).

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 ...

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