District court judge denies part of DOJ motion for summary judgment in white supremacist's FOIA case

By Karen Kidd | Feb 12, 2018

BENTON – A district court judge recently denied in part a U.S. Department of Justice motion for partial summary judgment in the Freedom of Information Act request of imprisoned white supremacist William A. White.

The FOIA requests of White, currently serving time in federal prison on a number of charges that include hate-laced emails and threatening a federal juror, should be taken seriously, Senior District Judge Phil Gilbert said in a memorandum and order handed down Jan. 19. 

"The court has considered the statements and positions taken in the DOJ's motion and finds that, although not all the legal positions presented in the motion have merit, they are not frivolous and have not been presented for an improper purpose," Gilbert wrote. 

"Instead, they have been presented as arguably legitimate defenses to White’s claims and rely on appropriate case law to support them. Additionally, factual statements White claims the DOJ has wrongfully endorsed are subject to interpretation that could render them accurate or presenting a genuine issue of fact. In these circumstances, the court finds that the DOJ has not presented anything to unreasonably or vexatiously multiply the proceedings. In sum, none of the DOJ’s statements or positions warrants sanctions under either Rule 11(c) or § 1927."

Self-proclaimed white supremacist William A. White  

The DOJ argued in its motion White had not exhausted his administrative remedies, as is required under the FOIA. 

"White concedes he did not actually exhaust his administrative remedies following the agencies' responses," the memorandum and order said. "Instead, he argues he constructively exhausted his administrative remedies when the agencies did not respond to him within the 20-day response period. At that point, he attempted to amend his complaint before the agencies actually responded. He believes the court should deem the amended complaint to have been filed on Jan. 16, 2017, when he tendered it to the court along with a motion for leave to file it."

White, former commander of the American National Socialist Workers Party based in Roanoke, Va. has been in and out of court for more than a decade over his white supremacist views that often translated into hate speech and threats. In April 2010, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison for hate speech but was allowed to walk out of prison about a year later after a federal judge ruled White's online comments are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In May 2012, White fled supervised release and missed a resentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke after an appeals court ruled that the judge in his case had not properly followed sentencing guidelines. He was arrested in Mexico on a federal warrant the following June.

In January 2013, he was jailed on charges he threatened a federal juror and the following months he was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for soliciting violence to the jury foreman of a federal jury, according to a DOJ press release from the time.

In May 2014, White was sentenced to seven additional years in prison following a third conviction by a federal jury for sending threatening emails. In November that same year, White was sentenced to more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of threatening law enforcement officers in Florida.

In his complaint, White claimed the DOJ, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and Federal Bureau of Investigations "did not respond properly to some of his requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act," according to the district court's memorandum and order.

White also asked the court for sanction against those federal agencies based on the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure but the court denied that request, according to the memorandum and order.

White withdrew "some of the bases for his sanctions request" after the DOJ filed its first motion for summary judgment.

In a related matter, the court declined to consider White's response to defense motions as a freestanding motion for summary judgment because of mistakes he make in filing, according to the memorandum and order. 

"Including more than one type of filing in a single document is not usually accepted by the court because, as in this case, it is confusing," the memorandum and order said.

"Additionally, construing a request in a responsive filing as a new motion threatens to open up briefing ad infinitum because each new request could commence a parade of sur-reply briefs disguised as regular responses. Here, the DOJ clearly did not view White’s request for summary judgment as a separate motion, so it responded in a cursory fashion more akin to a reply brief without discussion or citation to evidence that would be appropriate in a response to a summary judgment motion. White’s reply – really a sur-reply not permitted by the Court under Local Rule 7.1(c) – is equally devoid of material appropriate to summary judgment. For these reasons, the Court declines to consider White’s response as a summary judgment motion and directs the Clerk of Court to terminate it."

The court did allow White "an additional brief period" in which to file a motion for summary judgment "on the merits to advance his arguments with respect to the claims involving the ATF and BOP," the memorandum and order said.

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Organizations in this Story

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Federal Bureau of Prisons U.S. Department of Justice U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois

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