Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit
In July of 2009, the plaintiff, Theodore Karantsalis, who was a freelance reporter, sought the booking sought the mugshots of Luis Giro under the Freedom of Information Act. The United States Marshalls Service denied Karantsalis the mugshots citing exemption 7( c) of the FOIA on September 8, 2009. The US Marshals service asserted that the booking photographs were law enforcement records and that releasing those photographs would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the United States Marshalls Service, Karantsalis sought remedy in the 11th US District Court on September 28, 2009.
Karantsalis alleged in lawsuit that that Giro had no privacy interest in his mugshots, that refusal to release the booking photographs was unwarranted because the US Marshalls service does not follow its policy of non-disclosure in some instances, and that releasing those photographs would serve the public interest.
The United States Marshalls Service responded to the initial filing with a motion for summary judgment. When a person, or agency, responds to an initial civil complaint with a motion for summary judgment, that person is saying that the lawsuit is frivolous and possesses no legal basis.
The Court ruled in favor of the US Marshals, granted summary judgment and rejected the Sixth US Appellate Courts holding that photographs are not exempt under the FOIA. The Court analyzed the complaint and held: Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no material fact at issue,
Karantsalis appealed to the Eleventh US Circuit court of Appeals. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts grant of summary judgment. The 11th Court of Appeals also rejected the doctrine of the Sixth District Court writing simply: “We take note of the opinion in Detroit Free Press v. Department of Justice,
73 F.3d 93 (6th Cir. 1996) and respectfully reject its holding.”
William Bordley, associate counsel for the United States Marshals Service submitted an affidavit to the court. The affidavit asserted that the Marshalls Service searched the appropriate records. The court examined this affidavit and found that it was non-conclusory, sufficiently clear, and submitted in good faith; that the affidavit met the burden of the Marshalls service to show that the search was reasonable.
The affidavit submitted by Bordley explained that that the policy of the Marshalls Service is to not release booking photographs to the news media unless a law enforcement purpose is served. One such purpose would be the locating of a fugitive. Giro, who was incarcerated in federal prison, was not a fugitive.
The court noted that Karatsalis provided no evidence that the Marshalls Service fails to follow its policy and that the policy in the Sixth circuit of providing some photographs, even if they do not serve a law enforcement purpose, was inapplicable; the application for booking photographs and legal suit was brought in the Eleventh circuit. Therefore, the court found that there was no question whether the Marshalls service complied with its policies.
The court found that Bordley’s affidavit established that the Marshalls Service was not required to provide the booking photographs of Giro under exemption 7( c) of the FOIA.
The court also found that the release of the photographs that showed the appearance of Giro during the booking process could result in humiliation.
Finally, the court found that there would be no identifiable public benefit served by releasing the mugshots of Giro.
The Supreme Court had previously held that an invasion of privacy is unwarranted when (1) the information sought implicates individuals personal privacy, (2) no legitimate public interest outweighs infringing the individual’s personal privacy, and (3) Disclosing the information “Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” U.S. Dep’t. of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749 (1989).
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal examined each prong of “Reporters” and found (1) that release of booking photographs implicates a persons privacy interests. (2) Individuals have a substantial privacy interest in their criminal histories. (3) Mugshots are a vivid implication of criminal conduct, which when released to the public, intimates, and is often associated with guilt. (4) The release of booking photographs does not meet with the core purpose of the FOIA because the purpose of the FOIA is to expose internal government operations.
The court balanced the individual’s privacy interest in mugshots against the public’s interest in seeing them. The court determined that the public has no discernable interest, except perhaps the negligible voyeuristic interest, in viewing booking photographs.