New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

CZYNSKI v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2001-028-549, Claim No. 104234, Motion No. M-63540


Claimant's motion for a sealing order pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 216.1 is denied. Although the application was unopposed, the Court was required to determine if "good cause" existed in order to seal court records.

Case Information

ADAM CZYNSKI The caption of this action is amended sua sponte to reflect the State of New York as the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption of this action is amended sua sponte to reflect the State of New York as the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant's attorney:
TOBIN AND DEMPF, ESQS.BY: Raul A. Tabora, Jr., Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
BY: Dennis M. Acton, Esq. Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
August 8, 2001

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The following papers were read on claimant's motion for a sealing order and a protective order

  1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of Raul A. Tabora, Jr., Esq. filed
May 7, 2001 (Tabora Affidavit).

  1. Letter of no opposition from Assistant Attorney General Dennis M. Acton, received
June 14, 2001.

  1. Filed papers: Claim, filed May 7, 2001.
Claimant, a college student, has pleaded three causes of action flowing from the alleged improper conduct of a professor, employed by Defendant at the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY), toward Claimant. The alleged offending conduct commenced in August 1998 and continued through May 4, 1999. On or about November 5, 1999 Claimant served a Notice of Intention to File Claim. Claimant remains enrolled at SUNY.

Claimant offers as the reasons for the instant application, albeit in conclusory fashion, that the claims are "highly sensitive and embarrassing, particularly with respect to Claimant"(Tabora Affidavit, ¶ 5); involve "[s]pecific instances of inappropriate behaviors and responses" and reflect Claimant's "personal thoughts and fears" (Tabora Affidavit, ¶ 6); and relate "the psychological impact" (Tabora Affidavit, ¶ 7) upon Claimant. Finally, Claimant submits that "release of any of the filed documents in this case would only serve to damage his emotional, academic and personal life further" (Tabora Affidavit, ¶8).

Historically, "statutory and common law ... have long recognized that civil actions

and proceedings should be open to the public in order to ensure that they are conducted efficiently, honestly and fairly" (Matter of the Conservatorship of Ethel Brownstone, 191

AD2d 167, 168). New York's presumption of public access is broad (Newsday v. Sise, 71 NY2d 146, 153, n. 4, cert. denied 486 U.S. 1056; Herald Company v. Weisenberg, 59 NY2d 378, 381-382; see, Carpinello, "Public Access to Court Records in Civil Proceedings: The New York Approach," 54 Albany Law Rev. 93 [1989] ). However, in civil cases the "common-law right to inspect and copy judicial records is not absolute ... and the determination of whether access to such records is appropriate is best left to the sound discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case." Matter of Crain Communications, Inc., v. Hughes, 135 AD2d 351, aff'd, 74 NY2d 626, rearg. den. 74

NY2d 843, 546 NYS2d 559, 545 N.E.2d 873 (sealed record on settlement of case).

The Uniform Rules for the New York State Trial Courts, applicable to this Court, effective March 1, 1991 added the following section as the authority for the issuance of a sealing order:

Except where otherwise provided by statute or rule, a court shall

not enter an order in any action or proceeding sealing the court

records, whether in whole or in part, except upon a written finding of good cause, which shall specify the grounds thereof. In determining whether good cause has been shown, the court shall consider the interests of the public as well as of the parties. Where it appears necessary or desirable, the court may prescribe appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard.

22 NYCRR 216.1(a). Therefore, although the Defendant has not opposed the application, the Court is required to determine whether "good cause" exists to grant a sealing order.

Following enactment of §216.1, the courts have continued to examine "good cause" on a case-by-case basis, according to the facts. (Matter of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 190 AD2d 483, 487). In Coopersmith v Gold, 156 Misc 2d 594, the Court put it succinctly, stating "[w]hat it all boils down to, however, is the prudent exercise of the court's discretion (Id. at


At the outset, the Court notes Claimant has requested an "Order to Seal any and all court records in this matter" (see, Notice of Motion). In the Court of Claims, all pleadings as well as "all other papers required to be served upon a party" are required to be filed with the Clerk of the Court (Uniform Rules for the Court of Claims §206.5[a] and [c]) as are papers submitted for signature or consideration of the court (Id at §206.5[d]). As such, claimant is seeking what the Court describes as a "blanket order" closing this entire litigation from view.

The instant claim implicates the alleged conduct of a SUNY professor and SUNY itself. The underlying conduct alleged, sexual harassment, unfortunately is a matter routinely in the public eye, rising from the shop floor to the highest levels of government. It is also a matter of considerable concern in our society as evidenced by legislative attempts to address this and other forms of discrimination (see, Executive Law §292 et. seq., commonly referred to as New York's "Human Rights Law"). In the Court's view, this is not a case involving purely private matters of no substantial public interest (see, Feffer v Goodkind, Wechsler, Labaton & Rudolf , 152 Misc 2d 812 affd 183 AD2d 678, in litigation involving a law firm dissolution, the litigants were not required to wash dirty linen in public and a sealing order was appropriate). Rather, a strong argument exists that the public, i.e. future students, have a right to know of this claim of alleged misconduct by a SUNY professor and of SUNY's response thereto (see, Coopersmith v Gold, supra at 604; see also, C.L. v Edson, 140 Wis 2d 168, 409 NW2d 417 [Ct App, Wis 1987]

[record of settled case not sealed on charges that defendant psychiatrist and members of his clinic sexually abused patients]).

The Court also finds that Claimant's proffer that the claim, and hence filed court records, will contain extremely personal, private, and confidential matters is insufficient to constitute a privacy interest warranting the sealing of the file. If the Court were to accept that statement as a basis for "good cause", all claims involving sexual harassment, would be presumptively entitled to a sealing order, a presumption not set forth in rule, statute or the common law. Embarrassment or prospective injury to reputation is an inherent risk in almost every civil lawsuit, and is likewise insufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access to court records (see, In re Will of Hofmann, __ AD2d __, 2001 WL 717321 [June 26, 2001], Anderson v Home Insurance Co., 924 P.2d 1123 [Colo.App.1996]).

The Court, mindful of the breadth of the request made, is not persuaded that Claimant's continued enrollment at Defendant's university and his desire to pursue his education as unfettered as possible from the effects of this litigation, on balance, is sufficient to constitute good cause to warrant the sealing of the Court records in this Claim.

Accordingly, the motion to seal the records is denied.

The parties are directed to appear at a Preliminary Conference in Chambers on September 18, 2001 at 10:30 a.m. and shall be prepared in accordance with §206.10 of the Uniform Rules of the Court of Claims.

August 8, 2001
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims