New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

TYREE v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2000-013-003, Claim No. 101474, Motion No. M-61097


Synopsis


Application for in camera inspection of personnel records (Civil Rights Law 50-a) and application for poor person status. Interim order directs parties to respond to Claimant's motion within 30 days before final determination is made regarding in camera inspection of personnel records. Poor person application is denied.

Case Information

UID:
2000-013-003
Claimant(s):
GARLAND TYREE
Claimant short name:
TYREE
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
101474
Motion number(s):
M-61097
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
PHILIP J. PATTI
Claimant's attorney:
GARLAND TYREE, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER
Attorney General of the State of New York
BY: EARL F. GIALANELLA, ESQ. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
April 30, 2000
City:
Rochester
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision


On February 16, 2000, the following papers, numbered 1 through 5, were read on Claimant's motion for in camera inspection and Claimant's application in support of petition to proceed as a poor person:
Papers Numbered

Notice of Motion; Verified Affirmation and

Annexed Exhibits; Affidavit in Support of Poor
Person Relief 1, 2, 3


Affirmation in Opposition 4


Reply to Defendant's Affirmation in Opposition
and Annexed Exhibits 5


An incident occurred in the Visitors' Room of the Southport Correctional Facility (Southport) on October 3, 1999. Thereafter, five correction officers restrained Claimant and forcefully escorted him from the Visitors' Room to D Block. In this action, Claimant charges (1) that the officers used excessive force; and, (2) that a supervising sergeant and a Southport nurse were negligent in not stopping the alleged assault.

In the instant motion, Claimant seeks in camera inspection and production of the "psychiatric," "misconduct" and "criminal" records of the officers and the sergeant. He claims that these documents are critical to the success of his case. He maintains that they are relevant (1) to show the employees' "pre-existing propensities for violence;" (2) to show that it was negligent for Defendant to let employees with violent track records supervise inmates; and (3) to prove "motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident."

Defendant responds that the records Claimant is seeking are protected from disclosure by Civil Rights Law §50-a. That statute protects all "personnel records" of correction officers that are used to evaluate "performance toward continued employment or promotion," including the records Claimant is seeking here (Matter of Prisoners' Legal Services v New York State Dept. of Correctional Services, 73 NY2d 26, 31). Records covered by §50-a may only be produced if the officer provides his or her express written consent or a court issues a lawful order that mandates such disclosure (Civil Rights Law §50-a). Such an order may be issued only after all interested parties are given an opportunity to be heard ( id.).

The legislative purpose of §50-a was to "prevent abusive exploitation of personally damaging information contained in officers' personnel records" by foreclosing all review of such records "except when a legitimate need for them has been demonstrated..." (Matter of Daily Gazette Co. v City of Schenectady, 93 NY2d 145, 154-155). Typically, a legitimate need exists only where the information contained in the file is "actually relevant to an issue in a pending proceeding..." (id.). Although §50-a contemplates a hearing on the question of whether to conduct an in camera review (Taran v State of New York, 140 AD2d 429), the Court may deny such review without a hearing where the moving party fails to set forth some good faith factual predicate for the request (see, People v Henry, 242 AD2d 877, lv denied 91 NY2d 834; see also, People v Gissendanner, 48 NY2d 543).

In the instant case, I conclude that two of the three evidentiary bases that Claimant gave for seeking the personnel data are insubstantial and would not justify production. First, records of other uses of excessive force or misconduct involving Defendant's officers cannot be introduced at trial to show their violent propensities or to support the contention that the officers used excessive force on this occasion (see, People v Hudy, 73 NY2d 40, 54-55; Kourtalis v City of New York, 191 AD2d 480; People v Francis, 149 Misc 2d 693). Second, I can perceive of no reason why Claimant would need personnel records in this case to prove "motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident." This is a straightforward excessive force case where the critical issues are what force Defendant used and whether it was reasonable under the circumstances.

I also conclude that in camera review of the personnel records of the sergeant and four of the officers should be denied summarily. In all but one instance, Claimant has given me no reason to believe that there would be relevant factual information in the individuals' files. Therefore, Claimant's request for information about the psychiatric, misbehavior and criminal records of Officers Tadder, Squires, Mastrantonio and Gleason is summarily denied, as is Claimant's request for the files of Sergeant Strong.

In reply papers filed on April 12, 2000, Claimant did provide information suggesting that there could be relevant material in Officer Gridley's personnel file. He submitted two DOCS memoranda describing another inmate restraint situation where Officer Gridley was apparently accused of knocking out an inmate's teeth. Claimant also averred that Officer Gridley has a reputation for being violent and that he participated in the use of force at another facility that resulted in the death of an inmate. If the incidents Claimant described formed the predicate for findings of misconduct, then they could support Claimant's argument that it was negligent for Defendant to let Officer Gridley supervise and discipline inmates (see, Cox v New York City Housing Auth., 105 AD2d 663, 664; see also, Colon v Wal-Mart Stores, 182 Misc 2d 921, 926-927).

Therefore, I conclude that in camera review may be warranted. Before ordering such review, however, I must give Officer Gridley and Defendant an opportunity to respond to the specific allegations found in Claimant's April 12th reply. Accordingly, I am allowing those parties thirty (30) days from the filing of this order to respond to that reply, and I am directing them to indicate in their response whether they wish to appear for a hearing before I rule on Claimant's in camera review request. I also direct Defendant to provide Officer Gridley with a copy of this order within ten (10) days after it is filed with the Clerk of the Court so that he will have notice of the pending proceedings. I place the burden on Defendant, because it is not clear to me that Claimant would have the ability to accomplish such service on his own (see, Matter of Anderson v McCoy, 182 Misc 2d 842). I further direct that that portion of this motion dealing with the in camera inspection of personnel records is adjourned to June 21, 2000.

Claimant's application for poor person status and for appointment of counsel is denied for the reasons stated in my February 24, 2000 decision and order.



April 30, 2000
Rochester, New York

HON. PHILIP J. PATTI
Judge of the Court of Claims