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Kensington Research and Recovery v. United States Department of

June 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Kensington Research and Recovery ("Kensington") filed suit against the U.S. Department of Treasury ("Treasury Department") and Bureau of Public Debt ("BPD") (collectively "Defendants") seeking injunctive relief under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") after the BPD denied its request for records regarding matured, unredeemed savings bonds. Defendants move for summary judgment because the BPD does not maintain the information in the form Kensington requested and, in the alternative, that a privacy exemption to FOIA applies. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


I. Parties

The BPD is an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department that oversees the U.S. Savings Bond program. (Ken. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1.) The BPD maintains registration records for savings bonds, including matured savings bonds that have not been redeemed by their owners, which are known as "Matured Unredeemed Debt" or "MUD." (Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.) Kensington is an Illinois corporation "focused upon returning government-held monies to their rightful individual and corporate owners." (Id. ¶ 14; Compl. ¶ 2.) Kensington earns a profit from aiding individuals recover their unclaimed assets for a fee.

II. Organization of Registration Records

The BPD maintains MUD registration records which contain the name of the registered owner, and any beneficiaries, as well as the owner's address and social security number, bond issue date, and bond serial number.*fn2 (Ken. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) These registration records, which identify the owner of a particular savings bond, are contained on microfilm. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 7.)

The BPD uses two electronic indices to help locate particular records on the microfilm. (Id.¶ 8.) For locating accrual savings bonds, the BPD uses SaBRe; for current income savings bonds, the BPD uses the HH/H system. (Id. ¶ 8.) These indices identify the "batch" of microfilm that contains the bond's registration number. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 13.)

To search the electronic indices, the BPD must receive certain background information from the individual with an interest in the bond, such as the individual's social security number or address, or the bond's serial number. (Id. ¶ 10.) Using this predicate information, the BPD searches in the indices to find the location of the microfilm for the requested record. (Id. ¶ 11.) After reviewing the microfilm, the BPD is able to confirm ownership of the bond. (Id.)

In lieu of submitting this information to the BPD to perform the search, individual bondholders can also use the BPD's website, Treasury Hunt®, to see if they own any matured, unredeemed savings bonds. (Id. ¶ 12.) By simply entering their social security number into a field on the website they can determine if they own any bonds. (Id.)

III. Kensington's FOIA Requests

Kensington requested information from the BPD on two separate occasions: (1) August 2009,and (2) October 2009, which is the request at issue in this case.

A. August 21, 2009 Request

On August 21, 2009, Kensington asked the BPD whether it could "make a list available of the purchasers of unclaimed treasury securities pursuant to a FOIA request or otherwise?" (Id. ¶ 15.) On August 24, 2009, the BPD responded that it does not maintain such a comprehensive list, and even if it did, it would not share it with Kensington due to privacy and confidentiality issues. (Id.¶ 16.) The BPD, however, ended up providing Kensington with some information on the matured, unredeemed debt of "non-individuals" on September 4, 2009. (Id. ¶ 18.)

B. October 30, 2009 Request

Kensington requested additional records on October 30, 2009. (Ken. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 21.) In this request Kensington sought information with respect to "Matured Unredeemed Debt (MUD) of security records for individual holders of securities which matured during the calendar year of 2007." (Id.) In submitting the FOIA request, Kensington conceded that privacy laws prevented the BPD from disclosing certain personal information of the bondholders, such as their social security numbers and birth dates. (Id. ¶ 22; BPD Resp. Ken. Add. Facts ¶ 4.) As a result, Kensington asked the BPD to redact this information from the records. (Ken. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 22.)

The BPD interpreted Kensington's request to broadly seek all records of unredeemed bonds that matured in 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Based on the BPD's electronic search capabilities, however, it could not perform searches to gather all the savings bonds issued in a particular year, nor could it segregate bonds according to the year of maturation.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 25.)

The BPD was therefore ill-equipped to fully comply with Kensington's request. In fact, to satisfy Kensington's request, the BPD would have had to create a new search tool to apply to both the SaBRe and HH/H system indices. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 32.) Using the information from this search, the BPD would have had to create a results report to aid in locating each bond on a specific reel of microfilm. (Id. ¶ 27.) The BPD has about 1.3 million reels of microfilm, and each reel contains about 9,000 images. ...

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