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Prison Legal News v. United States Dep't of Homeland Sec.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 18, 2015

PRISON LEGAL NEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al., Defendants

Page 1078

For Prison Legal News, a project of the HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER, a Washington nonprofit corporation, Plaintiff: Angela C Galloway, Eric M Stahl, LEAD ATTORNEYS, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE (SEA), SEATTLE, WA; Lance Weber, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER, LAKE WORTH, FL.

For United States Department of Homeland Security, and its component, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, Defendants: Kayla Stahman, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE (SEA), SEATTLE, WA.

Page 1079

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Marsha J. Pechman, Chief United States District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 24, 28.) Having considered the Parties' briefing and the related record, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 24) and DENIES Defendants' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 28).

Background

Plaintiff Prison Legal News, a monthly news magazine dedicated to reporting and advocacy concerning the elevated telephone rates that prisons and contractors charge incarcerated people, brings suit against the Department of Homeland Security (" DHS" ) and Immigration and Customs

Page 1080

Enforcement (" ICE" ) alleging that various actions taken by Defendants have violated the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ). (Dkt. No. 33.)

Prison Legal News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (" HRDC" ), a nonprofit charitable organization that focuses on " public education, prisoner education, advocacy and outreach in support of the rights of prisoners and in furtherance of basic human rights." (Dkt. Nos. 24 at 7, 25 at 1-3.) For several years, Plaintiff and HRDC have been gathering information through public records requests about prison phone policies and practices, with special focus on identifying where prisoners are charged high rates for basic telephone services. (Dkt. No. 25 at 1-3.) In 2013, HRDC staff members testified before the Federal Communications Commission (" FCC" ) about capping prison phone rates, and the FCC cited Plaintiff and HRDC more than forty-five times in its report and order implementing new regulations of prison telecommunications companies. (Dkt. No. 25 at 59-189.) Plaintiff's FOIA records requests in this case also sought information related to telephone practices and policies as part of the same investigative project, this time targeted towards ICE's federal immigration detention centers. (Dkt. Nos. 24 at 7-9, 25 at 1-3.)

Plaintiff's first FOIA request was mailed to Defendants on July 30, 2013, and was signed for by Defendants on August 5, 2013. (Dkt. No. 25 at 3, 213-17.) Plaintiff asserts that it never received a response to this request. (Id. at 3.) Defendants assert that they issued a request acknowledgment letter on August 7, 2013, and have produced evidence that a responsive letter was generated, though not that it was mailed. (Dkt. Nos. 29 at 4, 29-1.) Regardless of whether the response letter was sent or not, Plaintiff informed Defendants by letter dated December 21, 2013, that Plaintiff had not received any response but remained interested in the information. (Dkt. No. 25 at 3, 219.) It is uncontested that Defendants received but did not respond to the second letter. (Id.)

On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff filed this suit, alleging that Defendants were violating FOIA by failing to respond to its two requests. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff then received the first round of responsive records from ICE on August 1, 2014. (Dkt. Nos. 25 at 3-4, 29.) In the months between September 2014 and February 2015, ICE produced several additional rounds of records and several rounds of reprocessed and corrected records. (Id.)

Portions of the produced records were redacted pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 4 (confidential commercial information), 6 (personal privacy), 7(C) (law enforcement personal privacy), and 7(E) (law enforcement techniques and procedures). (Dkt. Nos. 25 at 3-4, 29 at 12.) In January 2015, Plaintiff amended its complaint to clarify that it sought to challenge not only ICE's failure to timely respond to its FOIA requests (the only disputed issue at the time the suit was filed), but also ICE's ...


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