New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

BROWN v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-015-200, Claim No. 103284, Motion No. M-63858


Synopsis


DOCS directives concerning logbooks, unusual incident reports and use of physical force fall within Commissioner's powers and duties related to facility management and are not discoverable by inmate claimant nor may he discover records related to prior use of force by specific correction officers since such information is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 50-a(1)

Case Information

UID:
2001-015-200
Claimant(s):
ANTONIO BROWN
Claimant short name:
BROWN
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
103284
Motion number(s):
M-63858
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Antonio Brown, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Joel L. MarmelsteinAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
November 5, 2001
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Decision

Claimant's motion pursuant to CPLR 3124 for an order compelling the defendant to produce documents in response to claimant's discovery demands dated June 17, 2001[1] is granted in part and denied in part as set forth below. This claim seeks to recover money damages for personal injuries sustained by claimant as a result of an alleged assault and battery by named and unnamed correction officers at the Oneida Correctional Facility on August 28, 2000 as well as another, separate assault by unnamed correction officers on August 29, 2000[2].

The Court will address each of the claimant's contentions on the motion in the order presented in the supporting affidavit. Claimant alleges that he was denied copies of 15 pages of documents filed in connection with a grievance he pursued as a result of the alleged assault and battery on August 28, 2000. In the State's objections to claimant's discovery demands dated June 17, 2001 and, specifically with regard to item #2 of the demand in which claimant requested a copy of the grievance related documents, the State charged the demand was "vague, irrelevant and requests documents that are or should be in the claimant's possession and are not in the exclusive possession of the defendant." The State, however, has subsequently reconsidered its position with regard to demand #2 and has provided copies of the entire grievance file to the claimant. Since the requested material has now been provided there is no need for the Court to compel disclosure.

Claimant's motion is further addressed to discovery demand item #4 in which he sought copies of all reports written to Superintendent Hollins related to the use of force incident dated August 28, 2000. The defendant's attorney did not set forth a specific objection to this request and has not addressed it on the motion. As a result, these documents shall be produced by the defendant within 30 days of the filing of this decision and order.

Item #5 of claimant's demand sought copies of the following DOCS directives: #4944 (Use of Physical Force), # 4091 (Log Books); and #4004 (Unusual Incident Report). Defendant's attorney alleged in his written objections that directives #4944 and #4004 were available for general distribution and could be obtained in the correctional facility's law library. On the motion, however, counsel concedes that he was mistaken in that regard but continues to oppose the request on the bases discussed below.

Defendant's counsel asserts that all three requested directives are subject to limited distribution pursuant to a memorandum dated May 18, 2001 from Marcy Correctional Facility Superintendent Gary Greene (Exhibit D). Counsel further contends that the distribution of such directives is restricted to safeguard the security of the facility and he questions the relevance of such directives to the instant claim. In doing so he argues with some merit that while log book entries related to the August 28, 2000 incident involving the claimant would be relevant and discoverable, a departmental directive requiring that a log book be maintained and the procedure to be followed in maintaining it would not and, therefore, the directive should not be subject to discovery. The same may also be said regarding directives concerning the use of physical force and unusual incident reports. At least one other court has been asked to compel the production of DOCS directives and in its denial of the motion in that regard held that "[t]hese documents relate to the fundamental security mission of correctional facilities; moreover, any relevant information that would be contained in such documents may be obtained through other documents produced pursuant to this decision and order or through a witness or witnesses at trial" (Guzman v State of New York, Ct Cl, April 4, 2000 [Claim No. 96524] Marin, J. unreported).

As the Court of Appeals in Arteaga v State of New York, 72 NY2d 212 at 217 observed:
To carry out the 'formidable tasks' of maintaining order and security in correctional facilities and protecting the safety of inmates and employees the Legislature has granted the Commissioner of Correctional Services broad discretion in the formulation and implementation of policies relating to security and to the disciplining of inmates (Matter of Rivera v Smith, 63 NY2d 501, 513).
As that Court noted the Commissioner's authority for the development and implementation of such policies is derived from section 112 of the Correction Law which also includes authorization for the development of rules and regulations "for the government of the officers and other employees of the department assigned to said facilities." The directives at issue in this action concerning log books, unusual incident reports and use of physical force clearly fall within the Commissioner's powers and duties related to the management of correctional facilities. Concomitant with the implementation of such policies is the Commissioner's right to restrict access to such directives by designating which directives may be available to inmates and which shall not. The document attached to defendant's opposition to the motion demonstrates access to certain directives including those at issue here are restricted. The Court finds that they are therefore not discoverable and the motion in that regard is denied.

Claimant's discovery demands #6 and #7 may be treated together. Demand # 6 seeks disclosure of all dates on which each of the correction officers involved in the August 28, 2000 incident giving rise to this claim were previously involved in use of force incidents at any facility operated by the Department. In demand #7 claimant seeks:
All records held by Superintendent Hollins of punishment inflicted on prisoners and a memorandum of every well founded prisoner complaint of ill treatment by guards, and of every punishment inflicted on an inmate, the nature and amount thereof and by whom it was inflicted in the Oneida Correctional Facility's special housing unit in the past 10 years.
The State initially objected to these requests on the ground that the demands were improper and that with regard to item #6 disclosure of such information was prohibited by section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law. In opposition to the motion the State maintains that each of these demands is improper as irrelevant and burdensome; that DOCS does not index use of force reports by the personnel involved; and that claimant's discovery demand #6 would require a review of and revelation of the contents of the named correction officers' personnel files in violation of the confidentiality afforded such files by Civil Rights Law § 50-a. The defendant argues that claimant has not met the criteria for requesting, let alone obtaining such an order pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 50-a (2) and (3).

With regard to records relating to the prior use of force by Sergeant Jordan and Correction Officers Mullen, Labella and Hampshire the law is clear that such information is, in fact, governed by Civil Rights Law § 50-a (1)[3] 1. All personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of any police agency or department of the state or any political subdivision thereof including authorities or agencies maintaining police forces of individuals defined as police officers in section 1.20 of the criminal procedure law and such personnel records under the control of a sheriff's department or a department of correction of individuals employed as correction officers and such personnel records under the control of a paid fire department or force of individuals employed as firefighters or firefighter/paramedics shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, firefighters, firefighters/paramedic or correction officer except as may be mandated by lawful court order." and is exempt from disclosure under the law (see, Gannett Co., Matter of, v James, 108 Misc 2d 862, affd 86 AD2d 744, appeal denied 56 NY2d 502; see also, Matter of Daily Gazette Co. v City of Schenectady, 93 NY2d 145). In a recent decision the Appellate Division, Third Department held that when one seeks to discover personnel records of individuals whose job titles are covered by Civil Rights Law § 50-a "the initial burden is on the party seeking the subject records to demonstrate ' in good faith "some factual predicate" warranting the intrusion into the personnel records' "(Dunnigan v Waverly Police Dept.,279 AD2d 833, 834; Taran v State of New York,140AD2d 429; 432, quoting People v Gissendanner, 48 NY2d 543, 550). There has been no such showing by claimant and the Court denies the claimant's motion in regard to discovery demand #6.

Claimant's reliance upon Burke v New York City Police Dept., 115 F.R.D. 220 (US Dist Ct, SD NY) is misplaced. In that case the district court acknowledged that in the context of a federal action brought pursuant to 42 USC § 1983, Title VII and 42 USC § 2000e-5 et seq., the State law privilege against disclosure created by Civil Rights Law § 50-a did not apply. Here, however, in this civil action in the Court of Claims the protection afforded the records of correction officers by the Civil Rights Law is applicable and prevents the disclosure of information whether it is specifically found in the correction officer's personnel folder or elsewhere (see, Gannet Co., Matter of, v James, 86 AD2d 744, 745, appeal denied 56 NY2d 502).

Claimant's request for copies of all inmate complaints of ill treatment by guards in Oneida's SHU and related information for a ten year period is clearly overly broad and would impose an undue burden upon the defendant without a demonstration of need on the part of claimant. Moreover, documents pertaining to inmate grievances against a correctional facility's personnel are likewise exempt from disclosure pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 50-a (see, Prisoners' Legal Servs. of N.Y., Matter of v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs., 73 NY2d 26).

Accordingly, the claimant's motion to compel responses to his discovery demands is denied except as specifically noted above.

November 5, 2001
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion, undated;
  2. Affidavit of Antonio Brown sworn to July 20, 2001;
  3. Affirmation of Joel L. Marmelstein dated August 23, 2001, with exhibits;
  4. Reply of Antonio Brown dated August 28, 2001;
  5. Letter dated August 16, 2001 from Antonio Brown with attachments;
  6. Affirmation of Joel L. Marmelstein dated October 9, 2001 with exhibits.

[1]A copy of the demand was attached to defense counsel's affirmation in opposition to the motion as Exhibit A.
[2]On this motion, however, claimant refers only to the alleged assault and battery of August 28, 2000.

[3]§50-a (1), in relevant part states:


"§ 50-a. Personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers