United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
C. DEVER III Chief United States District Judge
October 7, 2016, Clarence McGuffin ("McGuffin" or
"plaintiff') filed suit under the Freedom of
Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking an order
requiring the Social Security Administration ("the
SSA" or "defendant") to produce records
concerning productivity data of the SSA's decision
writers [D.E. 1]. On December 22, 2016, the SSA moved to
dismiss McGuffin's complaint for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction or, alternatively, for summary judgment [D.E.
10] and filed a supporting memorandum [D.E. 11], a statement
of material facts [D.E. 12], and an appendix [D.E. 15]. On
January 27, 2017, McGuffin responded in opposition [D.E. 18].
On February 10, 2017, the SSA replied [D.E. 19]. As explained
below, the court grants the SSA's motion for summary
15, 2016, McGuffin submitted an electronic Freedom of
Information Act ("FOIA") request for records
concerning the productivity of the SSA's decision
writers. Compl. [D.E. 1] ¶ 9. He requested two items in
i. The [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review's
Case Processing and Management System ("CPMS")]
data used to measure Decision Writer productivity in all 141
hearing offices for Fiscal Years 2006 through 2009 as
identified in the SSA [Office of the Inspector General's
("OIG")] Audit Report A-02-09-19068 from November
2010, "Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
Decision-Writing Process"; and
ii. The monthly Decision Writer Productivity reports that
measure individual and office Decision Writer productivity
for Region IV (Atlanta) hearing offices from Fiscal Years
2010 through 2015 [.]
Id. ¶ 11; [D.E. 1-2]. According to McGuffin,
"release of the information is essential to ascertain
whether the testimony and statements of witnesses in those
legal matters are truthful or can be substantiated as
untruthful." Compl. ¶ 7.
August 3, 2016, the SSA informed McGuffin that it was
contacting its components to fulfill McGuffin's request.
Compl. ¶ 14-15; [D.E. 1-8] 4-5. The next day, an SSA
FOIA officer told McGuffin the SSA had sent McGuffin's
request to the SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication
and Review ("ODAR"). Compl. ¶ 16. On August 11
and August 12, 2016, McGuffin again contacted the SSA about
his request but received no response. Id. ¶ 17.
On October 6, 2016, SSA notified McGuffin that it was
fulfilling his request but was awaiting a response from yet
another component from which it had requested responsive
documents. Id. ¶ 18; [D.E. 1-8] 5-6. Not
satisfied, McGuffin filed suit the following day to compel
production of the requested documents. See Compl.
¶ 1; [D.E. 1-8] 7.
McGuffin filed suit, the SSA responded to his FOIA request
with two releases. The SSA's interim release on November
7, 2016, responded in full to McGuffin's first request by
releasing all responsive records that the SSA had located.
Zimmerman Decl. [D.E. 15-2] ¶ 6; Def's App. [D.E.
15-4]. The interim release also partially responded to
McGuffin's second request by releasing productivity
reports that measured decision-writer productivity on a
per-office level. Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 6; Def.'s App.
[D.E. 15-4]. The SSA told McGuffin it would soon respond to
the other half of McGuffin's second request, which sought
productivity reports of individual decision writers.
Def's App. [D.E. 15-4]. On November 23, 2016, the SSA
released that information, but withheld identifying
information about SSA employees. Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 7;
Def.'s App. [D.E. 15-3]. For each report, the withheld
data included: (1) the employee's name, (2) the
employee's available hours to write decisions, (3) the
percentage of time worked on decision writing out of the
employee's total duty hours, and (4) the learning curve
that applies to the employee. Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 8.
withheld this information under FOIA's Exemption 6, which
protects from disclosure "personnel and medical files
and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a
clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5
U.S.C. § 552(b)(6); see Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 8;
Def.'s App. [D.E. 15-3]. The SSA concluded that these
four data fields fell within Exemption 6 because they could
directly identify employees or lead to their identification.
Zimmerman Decl. ¶ 8(c); Def's Stmt. Material Facts
[D.E. 12] ¶¶ 24-25. Specifically, the
employees' names could directly identify employees, the
available hours and percentage of time spent on decision
writing "could lead to identification of individuals
whose hours were different than the majority of writers for a
given month and location, " and the learning-curve
information could lead to identification of individuals
"by showing who was on the learning curve (i.e., which
employees were trainees in a given month)." Zimmerman
Decl. ¶ 8(c). The SSA released all other fields on the
the second of its two releases, the SSA moved to dismiss for
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or, alternatively, for
summary judgment. See [D.E. 10]. The SSA seeks summary
judgment because the SSA "has conducted a reasonable and
adequate search for records and produced all responsive
documents that are not exempt from release under FOIA."
[D.E. 11] 2. McGuffm does not contest the adequacy of the
SSA's search but argues that the SSA has not shown that
me reacted materials fall within Exemption 6. [D.E. 18] 4.
Thus, McGuffm contends that "the only unanswered FOIA
question in this case is the 'Exemption 6'
typically resolve FOIA cases on summary judgment. See
Turner v. United States,736 F.3d 274, 282 (4th Cir.
2013). Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party
demonstrates "that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact" and the moving party "is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The
party seeking summary judgment must initially show an absence
of a genuine dispute of material feet or the absence of
evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
If amoving party meets its burden, the nonmoving party must
"come forward with specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
(quotation and emphasis omitted). A genuine issue for trial
exists if there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving
party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 249
(1986). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence
in support of the plaintiffs position [is] insufficient"
Id. at 252; see Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d
213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985) ("The nonmoving party, however,
cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere
speculation or the building of one inference upon
another."). Only factual disputes that ...