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Turner v. United States Department of Treasury

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 23, 2017



         This action is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 23), and plaintiffs motion for a protective order (Doc. No. 24). Both motions were submitted without a hearing pursuant to Local Rule 230(1). For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part and plaintiffs motion for a protective order will be denied.


         Plaintiff Bruce Turner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this action against defendant United States Department of the Treasury. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), seeking production of certain designated documents from the Department of the Treasury. (Id.)

         The following facts are undisputed on summary judgment. On August 25, 2014, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury, received a FOIA request from plaintiff. (Doc. Nos. 1 at 6; 23-3 at 10.) In his request, plaintiff sought records concerning himself, specifically: (i) plaintiffs savings account records from a branch of Bank of America located in Riverside, California for the period of January 1993 through December 1994; (ii) copies of checks and other instruments; (iii) records of transactions; (iv) receipt of funds; and (v) a copy of a Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”) submitted by Bank of America for the sum of $100, 000 in plaintiffs name.[1] (Doc. Nos. 1 at 6; 23-3 at 10.)

         On September 15, 2014, the FinCEN denied plaintiffs FOIA request. (Doc. Nos. 1 at 7; 23-3 at 11.) The agency informed plaintiff that its non-Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”)[2] records did not include documents responsive to plaintiffs request, and that its BSA records were specifically exempt from disclosure under FOIA. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed the denial of his FOIA request on October 5, 2014. (Doc. Nos. 1 at 7; 23-3 at 10.) On December 8, 2014, plaintiff received a letter from the FinCEN denying plaintiffs administrative appeal. (Id.) That letter informed plaintiff that he could obtain judicial review in a district court where he resided pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). (Doc. Nos. 1 at 7; 23-3 at 11.) Plaintiff then commenced the present action in this court. (Doc. No. 1.)

         Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on June 30, 2016. (Doc. No. 23.) On August 5, 2016, plaintiff filed his opposition (Doc. No. 25), as well as a motion seeking a protective order from the court authorizing defendant to file a copy of the requested CTR under seal. (Doc. No. 24). Defendant filed its reply on August 12, 2016. (Doc. No. 26.)


         I. Summary Judgment

         “Most FOIA cases are resolved by the district court on summary judgment, with the district court entering judgment as a matter of law.” Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 836 F.3d 987, 989 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc); see also Sakamoto v. EPA, 443 F.Supp.2d 1182, 1188 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (“It is generally recognized that summary judgment is a proper avenue for resolving a FOIA claim.”) (citing Nat l Wildlife Fed'n v. U.S. Forest Serv., 861 F.2d 1114 (9th Cir. 1988)). However, it has now been made clear in this circuit that usual summary judgment standards apply and that “if there are genuine issues of material fact in a FOIA case, the district court should proceed to a bench trial or adversary hearing.” Animal Legal Def. Fund, 836 F.3d at 990; see also Cameranesi v. U.S. Dep 't of Def, 839 F.3d 751, 762 (9th Cir. 2016) (“We have now overruled this FOIA-specific summary judgment standard, and instead apply our usual summary judgment standard.”)[3]

         Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate here if the moving party “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). On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party “initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig, 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may meet its burden by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically store information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B).

         When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, “the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, “so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment . . . is satisfied.” Id. at 323.

         II. Protective Orders

         As noted above, plaintiff has also moved for a protective order authorizing defendant to file a copy of the CTR purportedly issued in his name with the court under seal.[4] All documents filed with the court are presumptively public. See San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 187 F.3d 1096, 1103 (9th Cir. 1999) (“It is well-established that the fruits of pretrial discovery are, in the absence of a court order to the contrary, presumptively public”). Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides a mechanism by which the parties may, in appropriate circumstances, propose means of protecting the claimed confidentiality of information in certain documents filed in a specific case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). Protective orders pursuant to Rule 26(c) are intended to safeguard the parties and other persons in light of the broad discovery rights authorized in Rule 26(b). United States v. CBS, Inc., 666 F.2d 364, 368-69 (9th Cir. 1982).

         Whether a protective order is entered in any case is subject to the discretion of the court. See Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984); Phillips v. Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2002). However, a protective order will not be entered absent a showing of good cause. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c); Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2003); Phillips, 307 F.3d at 1210. The party seeking protection bears the burden of showing specific prejudice or harm, including, with respect to individual documents, the particular and specific need for protection. Phillips, 307 F.3d at 1210-11; San Jose Mercury News, 187 F.3d at 1102-03. “If a court finds particularized harm will result from disclosure of information to the public, then it balances the public and private interests to decide whether a protective order is necessary.” Phillips, 307 F.3d at 1211.


         I. Defendant's ...

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