Wednesday, January 04, 2012

All BOP Records are Law Enforcement Records Under FOIA

Jordan v. U.S. DOJ, 2011 WL 6739410 (12/23/11) (Col.) (Published) - The Freedom of Information Act's reference to records created for "law enforcement purposes" refers to all records of the Bureau of Prisons. The BOP is a law enforcement agency since its primary purpose is confining prisoners and preventing escape, which is a crime. Consequently, all its records are per se exempt from disclosure if it can show disclosure would cause one of the harms listed in 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(b)(7)(A) - (F). Here 7F applies with respect to the names of Supermax staff members because release of the names could endanger the staff and there is no indication BOP releases the names to the general public, but not inmates, such as the plaintiff. And copies of the plaintiff's mail that BOP copied falls under Exemption 7E because its disclosure could reveal information about techniques and procedures that could be used to circumvent the staff's efforts. For similar reasons, also exempt was the portion of the plaintiff's psychological records that advised all staff regarding appropriate actions to take regarding the plaintiff, "a dangerous prisoner with a history of threatening staff."

This case also includes an interesting discussion regarding why it's okay to affirm a judgment on a ground different than that relied upon by the district court. Here, the BOP argued below for a similar, but not identical, ground as a basis for the exemption. That was good enough to allow affirmance on the basis of Exemption 7E. Finally, BOP regulations permitted the BOP to withhold an inmate's medical records containing subjective evaluations of the medical staff.