This is Weekend Circuit, a weekly review of the serious and the silly in federal appellate courts in the last week.
Another Private Email Server
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling Tuesday and found work-related emails maintained by government officials on a private server were not exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian free market think tank, pursued a FOIA inquiry against Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. CEI sought “all policy/OSTP-related email sent to or from firstname.lastname@example.org,” a non government email Holdren maintained at Woods Hole Research Center. A lower court found the emails were beyond the reach of FOIA, as their maintenance on a non government server placed them beyond the control of the agency. The D.C. Circuit disagreed.
“In other words, an agency always acts through its employees and officials,” the court wrote. “If one of them possesses what would otherwise be agency records, the records do not lose their agency character just because the official who possesses them takes them out the door or because he is the head of the agency.”
The ruling came the same day FBI Director James Comey announced he would not recommend charges against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her maintenance of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. (RELATED: Court Rules FOIA Reach Extends Into Private Email Accounts)
Detainee Placed In Solitary With Violent Prisoner
Billy Bloom, a pretrial detainee at a jail in Oklahoma, was transferred into a segregation cell after a physical altercation with another inmate — the court could not establish whether Bloom initiated the fight. He was escorted to the confinement area by corrections officer Jeremiah Hammett on the orders of shift supervisor Chad Pompa. The cell Pompa assigned Bloom was already occupied by a violent inmate named Shawn Sexton. When Hammett opened the cell, Sexton charged Bloom and violently assaulted him. Bloom lost consciousness, suffered severe brain trauma, respiratory arrest, and a contusion to the chest wall.
Bloom brought Fourth, Eighth, and 14th Amendment claims against Pompa, claiming Pompa had intentionally placed him in cell to punish him for his role in the original altercation. A district court stripped Pompa of qualified immunity, a narrow form of immunity from prosecution afforded to law enforcement officers when they are acting in their official capacity. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, stripping Pompa of his immunity and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Man Poses As Diplomat From Made-Up Country
Arkansas State Trooper Jeffrey Preston pulled over Nimrod Sanders for speeding in 2013. Sanders’s car had two bumper stickers, which read “Republic of Conch Diplomat,” and “Diplomatic immunity. Do not detain.” Preston asked the driver to produce identification, at which point he handed Preston a “Diplomatic Identification Card” which identified him as an ambassador from the Republic of Conch. Although Preston could not confirm that the Republic of Conch even existed, he chose to err on the side of caution and not issue a ticket, less he precipitate an international incident. Shortly thereafter, Preston and other officers determined that the Republic of Conch was a fictitious country.
Sanders was later arrested by the Diplomatic Security Service, a security arm of the U.S. Department of State tasked with protecting foreign dignitaries and American diplomatic missions abroad. Sanders was convicted of impersonating a foreign diplomatic officer and sentenced to a 57-month prison term. Sanders appealed his conviction to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction Wednesday.
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