The FOIA/PA for state and federal inmates and private citizens

Freedom of Information/Privacy Act explained (Last of a 4-Part Series)

By Gary Callahan, Prisoner of the Drug War

Generally speaking, FOIA/PA lawsuits are short, direct and to the point. The complaint will be styled as you the Plaintiff, your address and phone numbers versus the agency which withheld the information as the Defendant and that agency's address and phone numbers. The complaint should state at least the following: 1) that it is an action under the Freedom of Information Act to order the production of agency records previously denied; 2) that the Court has jurisdiction over the action (must cite appropriate state statutes if state action); 3) that the Plaintiff is a prisoner and where (or a private citizen and address); 4) that the agency is a department of the United States (or of an individual state) and 5) that the agency has possession and control over the records that the Plaintiff seeks. The following is a short complaint delineating the proper federal statutes for an FOIA/PA lawsuit:

(Example NO. 4)



(915) 263-8304 - Plaintiff,
Civil Action NO.___________________
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20534 - Defendant.


1. This is an action under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 USC S 552, as amended, and the Privacy Act (PA), S USC § 582a, to order the production of agency records previously requested by plaintiff pursuant to the above-referenced Acts and which requests have either been ignored or denied by the defendant agency.

2. This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 5 USC § 552(a) (4) (B) and 5 USC § 552a(g)(l)(B); (g)(l)(D); (g)(3)(A); (g)(3)(B); (g)(4)(A) and (g)(4)(B).

3. Plaintiff, John Doe, is a federal [state] prisoner in the Federal Correctional Institution at Big Spring, Texas. He is the requestor of the withheld records.

4. Defendant Bureau of Prisons is an agency of the United States, and it has possession of, and control over, the records that Plaintiff seeks.

5. The following is a list of the requests made by Plaintiff to the defendant agency and disposition, if any: [this is an example only]

On 10/15/96, plaintiff mailed a FOIA request to the defendant agency. On 10/24/96 a response was received in the form of the standard "10 day letter" assigning a request no. 96-61. No responsive records were furnished and Plaintiff submitted an appeal designated as A-l on 2/3/97. No responsive records resulted from that appeal. On 4/2/97, plaintiff received yet another "10 day letter" from the agency but no responsive records were sent. A true copy of the above request, appeal and letters are attached as Exhibit A.

6. Over ten (10) working days have passed since the Bureau of Prisons received Plaintiff's FOIA/PRIVACY ACT requests and he has not received the responsive records and documents as indicated in paragraph 6, exhibit A. Over twenty (20) working days have passed since the Office of Information and Privacy received plaintiff's appeals and he has not received the responsive records and documents as indicated above. The agency has not claimed any exemptions for nondisclosure that are identifiable under the FOIA or the Privacy Act.

7. Plaintiff has a statutory right to the records that he seeks, and there is no legal basis for the defendant's refusal to disclose them to him. Plaintiff has made a showing that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has improperly withheld agency records.

8. Therefore, Plaintiff prays that this Court:

(1) Declare that defendant's refusal to disclose the records requested by Plaintiff is unlawful;

(2) Issue an injunction to prevent the Bureau of Prisons from relying on their invalid practice of either a) not responding at all to FOIA/PA requests, or b) responding 11 with a standard form "10 day letter, and then not taking any action honoring or denying the request;

(3) Make a written finding that the circumstances surrounding the withholding raise questions whether there has been arbitrary or capricious agency action and make a referral of the matter to the Merit Systems Protection Board for investigation, pursuant to subsection (a) (4) (F);

(4) Award Plaintiff his costs and reasonable attorney's fees in this action;

(5) Expedite lawsuit pursuant to 28 USC § 1657(a) ; and

(6) Grant such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.

Signed this ___ day of________19 ____

John Doe - 1900 Main Street
Big Spring, TX 79720

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. ____________(Signature

This document is hereby filed on the ______the day of __________, 19_____, pursuant to the holding in Houston v. Lack, 487 US 266 (1988), by placing it in the prison mail receptacle designated for outgoing legal mail.

The exhibits referred to in the complaint are copies of your correspondence to the requested agencies and its replies showing lack of compliance to your requests. Normally you will provide the Clerk of Courts with a cover letter listing all of the documents you are enclosing. This greatly helps the Clerk keep things organized and is the professional way to do things.

(Example NO. 5)

July 4, 1998

Clerk - United States District Court
District of Columbia
333 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20001


Dear Sir/Madam,

Enclosed please find for filing the following documents:

1. COMPLAINT, 5 originals.

2. SUMMONS, 5.


4. PRISONER TRUST ACCOUNT REPORT, 1 original and one copy.


6. CIVIL COVER SHEET, one original.

Pursuant to 28 U. S.C. s l915(c), I request that you effect service of the SUMMONS and COMPLAINT on the defendants.

Sincerely, ______________(Signature)

John Doe
(housing unit)
(street address)
(city, state, zip)

[note: you must include a copy of the complaint and a summons for The Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States; one for the U. S. Attorney, Civil Division; one for the Agency, and; two for the Clerk - be sure to use their correct addresses]

Hopefully the foregoing will be of benefit to those of you seeking information from agency files or your own personal records maintained by a state or federal agency. For those of you anticipating litigation with an agency sometime in the future, the FOIA/PA can be an invaluable adjunct to civil discovery for the simple reason that in order to get discovery you must show how the information is relevant to your case; with the FOIA/PA you do not and this is a big difference. The FOIA/PA is therefore much broader in scope since relevance is not an issue. Remember to start well in advance of your anticipated law suit. If you must sue, then you must order the local court rules from the District Court and follow them to the letter. If the local rules state you have to two-hole punch all documents filed, then you must do it. If you don't follow the local rules, the Clerk does not have to file your pleading. Always include a cover letter showing what you are filing. Always include a certificate of service (except with the complaint). If you follow this advice your law suit will go smoothly. In upcoming articles we will explain the exemptions the agency may claim to deny you access to some of the records requested. Since the exemptions are discretionary instead of mandatory, you may be able to successfully argue for their release. The FOIA/PA can be an important tool, even for finding newly discovered evidence with which to file a second, successive § 2255, but like any tool, you have to know how to use it - and now you do. Good luck.

Agency Addresses:

  • DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION - Requests for Drug Enforcement Administration records should be addressed to:
    Chief - Freedom of Information Division
    Drug Enforcement Administration
    1405 Eye Street, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20537
  • FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION - Requests for Federal Bureau of Investigation records should be addressed to:
    Director - Federal Bureau of Investigation
    J. Edgar Hoover Building
    9th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20535
  • IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE - Requests for Immigration and Naturalization Service records should be addressed to:
    Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Reviewing Officer
    reedom of Information Act/Privacy Act Unit
    Immigration and Naturalization Service
    425 Eye Street, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20536
  • EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR IMMIGRATION REVIEW - Requests for Executive Office for Immigration Review records should be addressed to:
    Executive Office for Immigration Review
    ATTN: Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Contact
    2 Skyline Place
    5203 Leesburg Pike, Suite 1609
    Falls Church, Virginia 22041
  • UNITED STATES MARSHALS SERVICE - Requests for United States Marshals Service records should be addressed to:
    FOIA/PA Officer
    Office of the General Counsel
    U.S. Marshals Service
    600 Army Navy Drive
    Arlington, VA 22202-4210
  • BUREAU OF PRISONS - Requests for Bureau of Prisons records should be addressed to:
    Director - Bureau of Prisons
    320 First Street, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20534
  • UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION - Requests for United States Parole Commission records should be addressed to:
    General Counsel - United States Parole Commission
    5550 Friendship Boulevard
    Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815
  • INTERPOL-UNITED STATES NATIONAL CENTRAL BUREAU - Requests for INTERPOL-United States National Central Bureau records should be addressed to:
    Chief - INTERPOL-United States Central Bureau
    Department of Justice
    10th and Constitution Avenue, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20530
  • INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE - Request for Internal Revenue Service records should be addressed to:
    Freedom of Information Request
    Commissioner of Internal Revenue
    Ben Franklin Station
    Post Office Box 929
    Washington, D.C. 20044
  • TAX DIVISION - Requests for Tax Division records should be addressed to:
    Assistant Attorney General
    Tax Division
    Department of Justice
    10th and Constitution Avenue, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20530

For a downloadable Adobe Acrobat (PDF format) copy of the entire FOIA/PA Explained series, CLICK HERE