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McGuffin v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

July 17, 2017

CLARENCE ANDREW MCGUFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. DEVER III Chief United States District Judge

         On 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 judgment.

         I.

         On July 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 particular:

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.

         On 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.

         After 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.

         The SSA 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 reports. Id.

         After 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' redactions." Id.

         II.

         Courts 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 ...


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