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Reidt v. Department of Transportation

filed*fn*: December 26, 1991.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California; William A. Ingram, Chief Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-89-20526-WAI.

Before: Norris, Wiggins and Trott, Circuit Judges.


Delbert H. Reidt appeals pro se the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Transportation and the United States Coast Guard in his action brought under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. By this action, Reidt sought to compel the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to furnish him with medical records he had requested pursuant to the Privacy Act and to correct his medical records to reflect the existence of an alleged service-related head injury. Reidt also sought, pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 1219, to have removed from his USCG records a waiver signed by him and which he argued improperly denied him the right to appear before a Physical Evaluation Board prior to his discharge from the USCG on medical grounds. Additionally, Reidt alleged that his due process rights were violated by the actions of the USCG. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and we affirm.*fn1

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Baker v. Department of the Navy, 814 F.2d 1381, 1382 (9th Cir. 1987). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and affirm only in the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Additionally, we construe Reidt's complaint liberally because he has proceeded pro se. See id.

A material issue of fact is an issue gleaned from "the pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and other material permitted by [Fed. R. Civ. P.] 56(c) . . . that affects the outcome of the litigation and requires a trial to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth." Admiralty Fund v. Hugh Johnson & Co., 677 F.2d 1301, 1306 (9th Cir. 1982) (citations omitted). If the moving party meets its initial burden of proof by showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the burden of proof shifts to the nonmoving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial and "may not rely on the mere allegations in the pleadings in order to preclude summary judgment. " T.W. Elec. Service v. Pacific Elec. Contractors, 809 F.2d 626, 629-30 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted); see also Marks v. United States (Department of Justice), 578 F.2d 261, 263 (9th Cir. 1978) (" conclusory allegations unsupported by factual data will not create a triable issue of fact").

I. The Privacy Act Claims

Reidt contends that because the USCG failed to respond within the proper time frame and turn over to him documents that he requested pursuant to the Privacy Act, the district court must hold a trial as to why the USCG did not comply with his request and then must require the USCG to give him the documents he sought. Reidt sought any records relating to medical treatment of an alleged service-related head injury he claims to have incurred some time between December 11, 1951 and March 1, 1952. He stated that he received treatment for this injury at the USCG training facility in Alameda, California. In addition, he requested that his service record be corrected to show the existence of the alleged head injury.

Under both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, a party requesting information is entitled to an adequate search reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents. Hill v. United States Air Force, 795 F.2d 1067, 1069 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (search standard same for both FOIA and Privacy Act); Zemansky v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 767 F.2d 569, 571 (9th Cir. 1985) (FOIA). The crucial issue is whether the search for the requested documents has been adequate. Zemansky, 767 F.2d at 571. "The adequacy of the search . . . is judged by a standard of reasonableness and depends . . . upon the facts of each case. In demonstrating the adequacy of the search, the agency may rely upon reasonably detailed, nonconclusory affidavits submitted in good faith." Id. (quoting Weisberg v. United States Dept. of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). An individual may also request amendment of a record pertaining to him, and the agency to which the request is made must either "make any correction of any portion thereof which the individual believes is not accurate, relevant, timely, or complete; or . . . inform the individual of its refusal to amend the record in accordance with his request, [and] the reason for the refusal." 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(2)(B)(i)-(ii); see also Baker, 814 F.2d at 1383.

a. Adequacy of the Search

Here, the record reveals that the USCG undertook an extensive effort to locate the medical records which Reidt sought. The government submitted the sworn declarations of four individuals who had been involved in the search for the records which Reidt sought. In the words of one of those declarants, "this has been one of the most extensive searches I have undertaken in my 14 months as the FOI[A]/Privacy Act officer, requiring nearly 20 hours of service." See Declaration of Michael T. Brown, SER at p. 26. Searches carried out at the USCG Headquarters in Washington D.C., the USCG Office of Health and Safety, and the USCG Office of Personnel and Training revealed that Reidt's medical and personnel records had been merged and sent to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) upon his discharge from the Coast Guard. The NPRC also conducted a search for his records but was unable to locate any. See Declaration of Richard M. Schrader, SER at pp. 51-52.*fn2

Thus, in this instance, the government's search for relevant records was more than adequate. See Zemansky, 767 F.2d at 574. Other than the conclusory allegations contained in his complaint, Reidt pointed to no specific facts which dispute this conclusion. Se Marks, 578 F.2d at 264. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on this cause of action. See Zemansky, 767 F.2d at 574; Marks, 578 F.2d at 264.

b. Amendment of Records

The Privacy Act permits an individual to seek correction or amendment of any record which that individual believes is not "accurate, relevant, timely, or complete." 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d)(2). In the instant case, however, no records relevant to Reidt's Privacy Act request were found. Therefore, there were no records for Reidt to have ...

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