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Finney v. Social Security Adminstration

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 14, 2014

STANLEY FINNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINSTRATION, Defendant.

ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

EDMUND F. BRENNAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in this action brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 522, et seq. [1] Defendant, the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. ECF No. 17. Plaintiff has responded with a document styled as Motion For Discovery In Accordance with FRCP 56(f).[2] ECF No. 23. He includes in that document his opposition to the motion for summary judgment, as well as a request to conduct discovery pursuant to Rule 56(d). ECF No. 23. He also includes his response to the court's August 1, 2013 order to show cause regarding his failure to file a timely opposition brief. ECF No. 22. For the reasons that follow, the August 1, 2013 order to show cause is discharged. Further, it is recommended that plaintiff's Rule 56(d) motion be denied and SSA's motion for summary judgment be granted.

I. Order to Show Cause

SSA's motion for summary judgment was filed on April 10, 2013. ECF No. 17. Plaintiff was granted an extension of time until May 29, 2013 to file an opposition or statement of non-opposition to the motion. ECF No. 19. That deadline passed without plaintiff filing either. Therefore, on August 1, 2013, plaintiff was ordered to show cause, in writing, no later than August 30, 2013, why sanctions should not be imposed for his failure to timely file an opposition or statement of non-opposition. ECF No. 22.

Plaintiff filed his response to the order to show cause on September 9, 2013. He has also submitted his opposition to the motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 24. He explains that he is currently taking three types of medication due to head trauma that he suffered after he was attacked by two inmates on March 13, 2013. Id. at 2-3; see ECF No. 16 at 3. He claims that this medication has side effects that do "not agree with him...." ECF No. 24 at 2. He also indicated that he has experienced difficulty obtaining his legal property, and was having trouble gaining access to the law library at CSP-LAC. Id. In light of plaintiff's representations, the order to show cause is discharged and no sanctions shall be imposed.

II. Relevant Facts

Plaintiff was convicted of robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. Pl.'s Mot. for Disc., ECF No. 23 at 27. He claims that he was convicted based on eyewitness testimony from Hipolito Luis Ortega, who testified on behalf of the government. Id. at 27, 32. Plaintiff contends that officers with the Los Angeles Police Department ("L.A.P.D.") assisted Mr. Ortega in obtaining a social security number ("SSN") in exchange for his testimony. Id. at 32. Plaintiff further alleges that his witness, Carlos Policzo, was not given similar assistance because, had he actually testified, his statements would have impeached Mr. Ortega's testimony.

Plaintiff contends that he is attempting to gather evidence to support his claim that the L.A.P.D. purchased Mr. Ortega's testimony by providing him with an SSN. On April 13, 2011, plaintiff sent via letter addressed to the SSA a FOIA request for:

1. A list of the names of all immigrants between the years of 1989 and 2000 in the residential area of Los Angeles, California, that received a social security number with the assistance of the Los Angeles Police Department and/or the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.
2. Whether Mr. Hipolito Luis Ortega, a resident of Los Angeles, California, an immigrant from Mexico, received a social security number in the year 1989. The specific month and day that he (1) applied for and received his social security number. Also, the same date for when it was approved by your department. Records illustrating whether he received any assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department and/or the District Attorney's Office in this matter. He was one of the immigrants who was contacted by the LA. P.D. [sic] RAMPART DIVISION in 1989. This matter is already a public record with the Los Angeles Superior Court.
3. Whether Mr. Carlos Polictzo (also spelled Policzo), a resident of Los Angeles, California, possibly an immigrant from Mexico, received assistance by the same.
4. Whether any similar records illustrate meetings within/without your department, intra and extra, about any of the same foregoing matters.

Declaration of Dawn S. Wiggins ISO Def.'s Mot for Summ. J., ECF No. 17-2 at Ex. 1.

By letter dated May 27, 2011, the SSA informed plaintiff that it had received his request and that it would be processed as soon as possible. Id. at Ex. 2. On June 8, 2011, the SSA responded to plaintiff's request, informing him that the information he requested was protected by the Privacy Act of 1974. The letter explained that the production of the records he requested would violate the privacy interests of other individuals and therefore the records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). The letter also informed plaintiff that if he disagreed with the decision, he could appeal it to the Executive Director for the Office of Privacy and Disclosure. Id. at Ex. 3.

On July 8, 2011, plaintiff appealed the SSA's June 8, 2011 action, arguing that his FOIA request should not have been denied because he did not seek any information that would have been provided on a social security application. He claims that he only sought "records that illustrate where Los Angeles Police Department, state or federal local prosecutors or their personnel, had provided assistance to our country's immigrants, including, but not limited to the proscribed names (Mr. Polictzo and Mr. Ortega), that received Social Security numbers between the years 1989-2000." Id. at 14 (Ex. 4). Plaintiff argued that the public interest in such information outweighs any privacy interest, and therefore the information he sought is not protected under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). Id. at 12-17 (Ex. 4). On September 30, 2011, the Office of Privacy and Disclosure sent plaintiff a letter responding to his appeal. Id. at Ex. 6. The letter stated that the SSA conducted a thorough search of its records, but did not discover any documents responsive to the following requests:

1. A list of names of all immigrants from 1989 to 2000 in the residential area of Los Angeles, California, that received a Social Security Number (SSN) with the assistance of the Los Angeles Police Department or Los Angeles District Attorney's Office;
2. Records for Mr. Luis Ortega and Mr. Polictzo showing if they received a SSN;
3. Specific months and date that Mr. Ortega and Mr. Polictzo applied and were approved for a SSN;
4. Records indicating if Mr. Ortega and Mr. Polictzo received any assistance by the Los Angeles Police Department or Los Angeles District ...

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