Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Torres Consulting and Law Group, LLC v. Department of Energy

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 27, 2013

Torres Consulting and Law Group, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Department of Energy, Defendant.

ORDER

NEIL V. WAKE, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16), Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Response (Doc. 18), Defendant's Response and Reply (Doc. 20), and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. 22). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Plaintiff's Motion will be denied.

I. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party carries its burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual issue is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56, the party opposing summary judgment must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The fact are "viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

II. FACTS

On July 31, 2012, Plaintiff Torres Consulting and Law Group submitted a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request to Defendant Department of Energy ("DOE") regarding its Energy Systems Integration Facility ("ESIF") construction project located in Golden, Colorado. Torres sought certified payrolls from MTech Mechanical Technologies Group and Diamond Fire Protection, two subcontractors of J.E. Dunn, the DOE's prime contractor on the ESIF. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 5-7). Specifically, Torres sought rate of pay, worker classification, fringe benefits, hours worked, names of contractors and subcontractors, and project identifiers. (Doc. 12). Torres sought the information to assess compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act, a federal law which requires contractors and subcontractors on federally funded projects to pay their laborers no less than the prevailing local wage.

On August 14, 2012, the DOE produced MTech's certified payrolls but redacted the individual employees' names, social security numbers, hours worked, net and gross wages, payroll deductions, and other withholdings. (Doc. 15 ¶¶ 23-25). A week later, the DOE produced Diamond Fire Protection's certified payrolls for the requested dates, again redacting the same information. The DOE justified the redactions by raising two FOIA exemptions: (1) Exemption 4, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4), which protects "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential" from disclosure to the public; and (2) Exemption 6, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6), which protects information about individuals in "personnel and medical files and similar files" when the disclosure of such information "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." (Doc. 16).

In September 2012, Torres filed an appeal with the DOE's Office of Hearings and Appeals, challenging the redactions made under FOIA Exemption 4 for both disclosures. (Doc. 17 ¶ 35). It did not challenge any redactions made pursuant to Exemption 6. (Doc. 17 ¶ 39). Torres sought disclosure of each employee's wages, including hourly rate, total pay, fringe benefits, and hours worked but agreed with the redaction of personal identifying information. (Doc. 17 ¶ 42). The Office of Hearings and Appeals denied the appeal, finding that the requested information was properly redacted. In response, Torres filed this suit for declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 12). The DOE then moved for summary judgment (Doc. 16), and Torres cross-moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 18).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

Review of an agency's response to a FOIA request is conducted de novo. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to disclose documents upon request, unless those documents are exempted from disclosure by statute. Willamette Indus., Inc. v. U.S., 689 F.2d 865, 867 (9th Cir. 1982). The decision to disclose information turns on the nature of the information requested and not on the identity of the requesting party. U.S. Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm. For Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 771-72 (1989). The FOIA contains nine, narrowly construed, exemptions that permit the government to withhold requested information. G.C. Micro Corp. v. Def. Logistics Agency, 33 F.3d 1109, 1112 (9th Cir. 1994).

A. FOIA Exemption 6

Exemption 6 protects information about individuals in "personnel and medical files and similar files" when the disclosure of such information "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6). Because Torres did not challenge any redactions the DOE made under Exemption 6 in its administrative appeal, it has not exhausted its administrative remedies for redactions made under Exemption 6. Exhaustion of administrative remedies is a jurisdictional prerequisite to brining a FOIA claim in district court. United States v. Steele, 799 F.2d 461, 465-66 (9th Cir. 1986). Accordingly, there is no jurisdiction to adjudicate redactions made pursuant to Exemption 6 in this action.

The DOE argues Torres' challenges to the redactions it made under Exemption 4 are irrelevant because the DOE justified every redaction Torres challenges under both Exemption 4 and Exemption 6. (Doc. 16, Pg. 10). The DOE suggests that redactions challenged under Exemption 4 still stand under Exemption 6. The index of redactions submitted by the DOE, however, does not support this assertion. Page 3-51, for example, explains redactions made on M-Tech's Certified Payroll. (Doc. 17, Exb. A). For redactions made under Exemption 4, it lists "[c]onfidential labor costs and commercial information contained within the certified payrolls pertaining to overtime, standard time, dates and hours worked, (allocation of weekly hours worked and total hours), and gross earnings, relating to employees of the subcontractor, MTech." (Doc. 17, Exb. A). For redactions made under Exemption 6, it lists "[n]ames and individual identifying numbers of workers employed by MTech... and specific personal information related to overtime, standard time, dates and hours worked, gross earings, withholding tax, Medicare payments, and net earnings." (Doc. 17, Exb. A). While Exemption 4 is used to justify redacting the confidential labor costs and commercial information, Exemption 6 is only used to justify redacting names and personal identifying information associated with such data. Furthermore, on the actual payroll sheets submitted, "Exemption 6" is stamped near where the name of the employee would be ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.