United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. McCONNELL, JR., United States District Judge.
Eil, an award-winning freelance journalist, filed a Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration seeking copies of all the exhibits the
government had introduced in the criminal trial of Dr. Paul
H. Volkman. The government initially objected to producing
any documents but eventually produced some of the requested
documents, most of them heavily redacted. Mr. Eil filed this
complaint in order to obtain unredacted copies of the
produced exhibits and copies of the remaining non-produced
exhibits. Because this Court finds that the public interest
in disclosure can be accomplished while safeguarding many of
the privacy interests of those involved, the Courts GRANTS
Philip Eil's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) and
DENIES the DEA's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No.
United States government charged Dr. Volkman in a 22count
indictment with a variety of drug related
charges. In announcing the indictment, the
government alleged that Dr. Volkman "handed out more
than 1, 500, 000 pain pills between October 2001 and February
2006, " made $3, 087, 500 from this scheme, and caused
the "the deaths of at least 14 people." The
government proclaimed that the "indictment serves as a
warning to all medical professionals that if you illegally
prescribe medication for personal gain you will be prosecuted
to the fullest extent of the law." (ECF No. 15-4).
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio held a
public jury trial of Dr. Volkman in March 2011. At that
trial, the government presented 70 witnesses and introduced
more than 220 exhibits. Most of these exhibits were the
medical records of former patients of Dr. Volkman. The
government never sought to have these records sealed, and it
did not redact the names or any other personally identifiable
information of Dr. Volkman's former patients from the
records. The trial court on its own never sealed the records
or required the redaction of personally identifiable
information from the exhibits.
an eight-week trial, the jury convicted Dr. Volkman of 20 of
the 22 counts brought against him. The court sentenced him to
four consecutive life terms of imprisonment. Dr. Volkman
appealed his sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit twice denied his
shortly after the trial,  Mr. Eil has sought access to copies of
the admitted trial exhibits used to convict Dr. Volkman. Dr.
Volkman was a college and medical school classmate of Mr.
Eil's father. Mr. Eil was "intrigued" by the
question of how Dr. Volkman, "with a MD/PhD from the
University of Chicago [could] turn into, according to the
government's allegations, a prodigious drug dealer and
medical mass-murderer." (ECF No. 15-1 at 2 n. 1). After
making this criminal prosecution the subject of his thesis
project for the nonfiction-writing program at the Columbia
University School of the Arts, Mr. Eil decided to write a
book on his investigation of Dr. Volkman's prosecution
uncontroverted evidence in this case reveals that Mr. Eil
requested access to the Volkman trial exhibits from the Clerk
of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio,
the Clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit,
lead prosecutor Assistant United States Attorney Timothy D.
Oakley, and trial Judge Sandra S. Beckwith. Each of these
people denied Mr. Eil's request for the trial exhibits.
Both A.U.S.A. Oakley and Judge Beckwith instructed or assured
Mr. Eil that FOIA was the proper avenue for accessing these
materials. Following this advice, Mr. Eil filed a FOIA
request on February 1, 2012, with the Executive Office of the
United States Attorneys ("EOUSA"). Nine months
later, the EOUSA transferred the request to the Defendant,
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
requested copies of the 220 trial exhibits that the
government had admitted into evidence, consisting of
approximately 15, 000 pages. In total, the DEA partially
released 3, 813 pages of information, and the government
largely redacted many of those pages. These productions
represent about twenty-five percent of the pages admitted as
full exhibits. Withholding the bulk of the materials, the DEA
asserts privacy concerns for the individuals whose records
the government had admitted at trial.
the government redacted from the trial exhibits the
• Identifying information of third parties, including
names, social security numbers, addresses, telephone numbers,
dates of birth or death, medical and tax record numbers,
insurance information, employment information, and other
particularly unique and sensitive personal and medical
information, pursuant to § 552(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C);
• Identifying information of criminal investigators,
pursuant to § 552(b)(6), (b)(7)(C) and (b)(7)(f); and
• DEA numbers, pursuant to §
Additionally, the DOJ withheld in their entirety:
• Medical records of individuals named in the transcript
of the Volkman trial, pursuant to § 552(b)(6) and
• Detailed autopsy and toxicology reports, reports of
post-mortem exams, and photographs of deceased patients,
pursuant to § 552(b)(6) and (b)(7)(C); and
• Tax records of an individual, pursuant to §
No. 15-1 at 7-8), PROCEDURE
filed this Complaint in March 2015 against the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration. (ECF No. l). He seeks a
declaration that the DEA wrongfully withheld and redacted
documents, an injunction ordering the DEA to provide access
to the requested documents, and an award of costs and
attorney's fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E).
Id. at 11. The parties agreed that this matter
should be resolved through the filing of cross motions for
summary judgment (ECF Nos. 15, 16), to which both parties
responded. (ECF Nos. 18, 19). This Court held a hearing on
the cross-motions on August 3, 2016.
is one of the central tools to create transparency in the
Federal government. FOIA should be a valuable mechanism
protecting against an insulated government operating in the
dark, giving the American people the access to the government
they deserve." (ECF No. 15-37 at 3).
scrutiny of the workings of government-including the
judiciary-is vitally important to the proper functioning of
our democracy. NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber
Co.,437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978). Because of this
importance, FOIA "presumes public entitlement to agency
information." Providence Journal Co. v. U.S.
Dep't of Army,981 F.2d 552, 556 (1st Cir. 1992).
"By establishing a presumption in favor of agency
disclosure, Congress aimed to 'expose the operations of
federal agencies to public scrutiny."' Stalcup
v. CIA,768 F.3d 65, 69 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting
Providence Journal, 981 F.2d at 556). FOIA provides,
with exceptions, that "each agency, upon any request for
records which (i) reasonably describes such records and (ii)
is made in accordance with ...