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Rusi P. Taleyarkhan v. Purdue University

October 24, 2012

RUSI P. TALEYARKHAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
PURDUE UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on the Request for Motion to Compel Discovery Material [DE 25] filed by the plaintiff, Rusi Taleyarkhan, on August 8, 2012. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

Background

In 2002, the plaintiff, Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, led a team of scientific researchers in the discovery of sonofusion. His work was published in various magazines and journals. Over the next few years Taleyarkhan and his team developed a table-top fusion device. The defendant, Purdue University, recruited Taleyarkhan in 2003 as a professor and researcher. While employed at Purdue, a university administrator, L. Tsoukalas, began calling Taleyarkhan's sonofusion research into question. Taleyarkhan alleges that Tsoukalas organized investigatory committees and publically accused Taleyarkhan of research misconduct. Taleyarkhan further alleges that he suffered harassment in the form of racial name-calling and ridicule at the hands of Purdue's staff because of his Indian descent.

The Office of Naval Research launched a federal investigation on Taleyarkhan's work which was overseen by Holly Adams, the Inspector General for the Office of Naval Research, from 2007-2009. Taleyarkhan alleges that Adams subsequently was removed from her position as inspector general as a result of having engaged in improper conduct during her investigation, including having personal communications with two individuals at Purdue. The investigation resulted in a conclusion that Taleyarkhan committed misconduct. Taleyarkhan complains that the Navy's investigation led to the misconduct finding by Purdue and subsequent sanctions, including being stripped of titles, funding, and positions on committees.

Taleyarkhan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was issued a Notice of Right to Sue on February 10, 2010, and filed his pro se complaint on May 4, 2010, alleging that the defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and committed several torts, including defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Purdue moved to dismiss Taleyarkhan's claims, but the motion was denied on all accounts except Taleyarkhan's request for punitive damages on his Title VII claim.

The court held a telephonic status conference on June 22, 2012, and set discovery deadlines. Taleyarkhan now moves to compel the non-party Office of Naval Research to provide an unredacted copy of its investigation report. He previously requested a copy of the report under the Freedom of Information Act and received a redacted copy, which was filled in by an investigative reporter. Taleyarkhan claims that the information could play a pivotal role in the outcome of the case.

Taleyarkhan also requests an order compelling production of unredacted e-mail correspondence between Adams, Congressman B. Miller, and Purdue employees. Taleyarkhan previously requested copies of the e-mails, but the Department of Naval Research declined, explaining that Adams' e-mails to Purdue employees were personal and that her e-mails to five other people, including Congressman Miller, had been located, but the electronic files had been corrupted and could not be recovered.

Discussion

Taleyarkhan first requested the information sought in his motion from the Office of Naval Research under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Office of Naval Research provided the documents but redacted certain information, citing to spe- cific exemptions to the FOIA. The FOIA makes information maintained by government agencies available to any person on request.

5 U.S.C. §552(a); 33 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure §8437. An individual seeking the information is not required to show need or relevancy, nor is the information limited to a party to a court proceeding. ACLU v. Brown , 609 F.2d 277, 280 (7th Cir. 1979); Culinary Foods, Inc. v. Raychem Corp ., 150 F.R.D. 122, 126 (N.D. Ill. 1993). The FOIA provides nine narrowly drafted exemptions to the information each agency is required to produce. 5 U.S.C. §552(b). When the Office of Naval Research responded to Taleyarkhan's request, it explained that certain information in the investigative report was subject to exemption 7 of the FOIA, which states in relevant part: "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information . . . (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. §552(b)(7)(C).

Similarly, the Privacy Act, which the Office of Naval Research also referred to when declining to provide the requested documents, exempts investigatory material compiled for law enforcement purposes, other than material within the scope of subsection (j)(2) of this section: Provided, however, That if any indi- vidual is denied any right, privilege, or benefit that he would otherwise be entitled by Federal law, or for which he would otherwise be eligible, as a result of the maintenance of such material, such material shall be provided to such individual, except to the extent that the disclosure of such material would reveal the identity of a source who furnished information to the Government under an express promise that the identity of the source would be held in confidence, or, prior to the effective date of this section, under an implied promise that the identity of the source would be held in confidence .

5 U.S.C. §522a(k)

Taleyarkhan asserts that the information he requested should not be exempted from production and asks the court to issue an order compelling the non-party Office of Naval Research ...


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