Fourteen Years After Being Sued, Bureau Of Prisons Finally Settles FOIA Lawsuit
from the Forever-Litigation dept
A little less than two years ago, we covered Prison Legal News’ FOIA lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons. While we’re aware litigation is seldom a swift process, PLN’s ongoing lawsuit was particularly epic: twelve years after filing its initial requests for records covering a period from 1996-2003, the DC Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s decision in favor of the US BOP and instructed it to order the government to hand over the requested records to PLN.
Two years after that ruling — fourteen years after PLN sued — the government is finally settling the case.
The government Taxpayers will be paying out nearly a half-million dollars for more than a decade of government stonewalling and obfuscatory litigation.
From the decision [PDF]:
1. The parties do hereby agree to settle, compromise and dismiss the above-entitled action under the terms and conditions set forth herein.
2. Since Plaintiff filed Civil Action No. 05-01812, Defendant agency has produced material Responsive to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request originally filed by Plaintiff; Plaintiff is satisfied with that production.
3. Defendant agency shall pay Plaintiff a lump sum of $420,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs in this matter pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §552(a)(4)(e).
Despite the Appeals Court finding the BOP misused FOIA exemptions and engaged in wildly-inconsistent redactions, the settlement from the government comes with a “this isn’t our fault” stipulation.
This Stipulation and Dismissal shall not constitute an admission of liability or fault on the part of the Defendant or Defendant agency or the United States or their agents, servants, or employees, and is entered into by both parties for the sole purpose of compromising disputed claims and avoiding the expenses and risks associated with further litigation.
If the government was really interested in “avoiding the expenses” of further litigation, you’d think it would have settled this case sometime during the last ten years. But the government wasn’t interested in ending its litigation. It only decided to settle when it became apparent it wasn’t going to win the case. Litigating further would have subjected it (or rather, US taxpayers) to an even larger legal fee payout.
This is how hard the government is willing to fight to keep public records out of the public’s hands. Understandably, it was in no hurry to hand out evidence of crimes committed against prisoners by BOP employees, but power is supposed to be tied to accountability. The BOP doesn’t care much for accountability or transparency. Since it has unlimited resources and time, engaging in a legal battle whose length rivals that of the War on Terror is no big deal. Only when faced with an inevitable loss did it finally concede, and its concession comes with “this isn’t a concession” boilerplate attached.