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Alliance v. United States Department of The Interior

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 30, 2014

SAN JUAN CITIZENS ALLIANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, an agency of the United States, UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, an agency within the United States Department of the Interior, Defendants

Page 1215

For San Juan Citizens Alliance, Plaintiff: Megan McCrea Anderson O'Reilly, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kyle James Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center-Taos, Taos, NM.

For United States Department of The Interior, an agency of the United States, United States Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the United States Department of Interior, Defendants: Zeyen Julian Wu, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO.

Page 1216

ORDER CONCERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge.

This matter is before me on the following: (1) the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [#42][1] filed February 26, 2014; (2) the Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Response To Defendant' Motion for Summary Judgment [#45] filed March 24, 2014. The defendants filed a response [#47] to the motion of the plaintiff, and both the plaintiff and the defendants filed replies [#48 & #49] in support of their motions. I grant the motion of the defendants and deny the motion of the plaintiff.

I. JURISDICTION

I have jurisdiction over this case under 28 U.S.C. XX 1331 (federal question) and 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) (Freedom of Information Act).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[2] Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A dispute is " genuine" if the issue could be resolved in favor of either party. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Farthing v. City of Shawnee, 39 F.3d 1131, 1135 (10th Cir. 1994). A fact is " material" if it might reasonably affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Farthing, 39 F.3d at 1134.

A party who does not have the burden of proof at trial must show the absence of a genuine issue of fact. Concrete Works, Inc. v. City & County of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1004, 115 S.Ct. 1315, 131 L.Ed.2d 196 (1995). By contrast, a movant who bears the burden of proof must submit evidence to establish every essential element of its claim or affirmative defense. See In re Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Securities Litigation, 209 F.Supp.2d 1106, 1111 (D. Colo. 2002).

In either case, once the motion has been properly supported, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to show by tendering depositions, affidavits, and other competent evidence that summary judgment is not proper. Concrete Works, 36 F.3d at 1518. All

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evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Simms v. Oklahoma ex rel Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, 165 F.3d 1321, 1326 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 815, 120 S.Ct. 53, 145 L.Ed.2d 46 (1999). However, conclusory statements and testimony based merely on conjecture or subjective belief are not competent summary judgment evidence. Rice v. United States, 166 F.3d 1088, 1092 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 933, 120 S.Ct. 334, 145 L.Ed.2d 260 (1999).

III. FACTS

The plaintiff, San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA), submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Western Environmental Law Center made the submission on behalf of SJCA. [#45-1][3]. The SJCA sought documents known as expressions of interest (EOI) submitted to the BLM as part of a sale of oil and gas leases announced by the BLM. As part if its response to the FOIA request, the BLM released documents related to an EOI submitted by Mark A. O'Neal and Associates (O'Neal). Out of the 38 pages produced, one of these pages was O'Neal's cover e-mail introducing the EOI. O'Neal's client was copied via e-mail on the EOI, and the cover page included the e-mail address of O'Neal's client.

The sole issue in this case is whether the e-mail address of O'Neal's client was withheld properly from disclosure by the BLM under Exemption 4 of the FOIA. The redacted document disclosed by the BLM in response to the FOIA request is shown ...


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