NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The 5th Circuit threw out an Air Force officer’s lawsuit accusing the government of violating his privacy rights by indirectly naming him as the subject of an investigation spurred by a retired pilot’s claim that several officers in his unit had committed a litany of improprieties.
In his complaint, retired Col. Joe Bryant, a former pilot in the Mississippi Air National Guard, accused plaintiff Robert Pierce of cheating on exams, fraternizing with or sexually harassing a female subordinate, using aircraft for unauthorized flights, spending military funds improperly, manipulating the merit selection process and falsifying or failing to update his medical records, among other misdeeds.
The investigation report left out Pierce’s name and referred to him only as the “C-26 Program Manager” and “Counterdrug Coordinator.” Another colonel took over the investigation in July 2004 and, after wrapping it up, sent Bryant a copy of the final response letter and investigation report. Bryant or his wife allegedly leaked parts of the documents to the press, including the information that the two titles referred to Pierce.
The circuit agreed that the materials were not “records” within a “system of records” under the Privacy Act. “The fact that newspapers made the connection to Pierce and identified him does not establish a Privacy Act violation,” Judge Davis wrote. See ruling.