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Bureau of Prisons ordered to comply with FOIA requests in PLN lawsuit

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press Release - Bureau of Prisons ordered to comply with FOIA requests in PLN lawsuit - 2009


Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

March 28, 2009


Washington, DC – On March 26, 2009, Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, obtained a favorable ruling from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. in a lawsuit filed against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) under the Freedom of Information Act.

The suit was originally filed in September 2005 after PLN submitted a FOIA request to the BOP for documents related to taxpayer funds the agency had paid as a result of verdicts and settlements in lawsuits. The BOP tried to impose a $7,000 fee for the requested records, and, following a two-year delay, refused PLN’s request for a fee waiver despite PLN’s non-profit status and intent to report the results from its FOIA request to the general public as a member of the news media.

“The public needs to know what the government does in its name,” noted Ed Elder, PLN’s attorney. “The information PLN will get from this case will help show what kind of treatment the government provides citizens it incarcerates.”

On June 26, 2006, the U.S. District Court found that the BOP had improperly withheld public records from PLN by denying the fee waiver. The BOP was ordered to produce the requested documents. While BOP officials turned over a number of records, they were incomplete and deficient; further, the BOP refused to provide some documents, claiming they were subject to various FOIA exemptions.

The court ruled in its March 26, 2009 order that the BOP had failed to show it conducted an adequate search for records responsive to PLN’s FOIA request. The court also found the BOP had failed to prove that the withheld documents were properly subject to FOIA exemptions. Accordingly, the BOP was ordered to either “conduct a new search of its files for the records,” or provide proof that the agency’s initial search was sufficient.

“The BOP’s continued failure to adequately produce public records is in direct conflict with a recent memo issued by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, which directed federal agencies to apply a ‘presumption of openness’ when responding to FOIA requests,” stated PLN editor Paul Wright. “Following the district court’s most recent order, perhaps the BOP will finally produce the records we first requested almost six years ago.”

The case is Prison Legal News v. Lappin, U.S. District Court (D. D.C.), Case No. 1:05-01812-RBW. PLN is represented by attorney Edward Elder, of Washington, DC.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news items, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright
Prison Legal News, Editor
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 275-8594 office
(802) 257-1342 cell

Edward Elder, Esq.
1335 Taylor Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
(202) 213-7240