New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HAMILTON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-010-051, Claim No. 105066, Motion No. M-65520


Claimant's motion to compel the Court's in camera review of records of a Department of Correctional Services' (DOCS) employee and for an order providing for the limited confidentiality of claimant's mental health and medical records is granted.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

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

Terry Jane Ruderman
Claimant's attorney:
Washington Square Legal ServicesBy: Claudia Angelos, Esq.
Defendant's attorney:
Attorney General for the State of New YorkBy: John Healey, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
October 23, 2002
White Plains

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The following papers numbered 1-2 were read and considered by the Court on claimant's motion to compel the Court's in camera review of records of a Department of Correctional Services' (DOCS) employee and for an order providing for the limited confidentiality of claimant's mental health and medical records:
Notice of Motion, Attorney's Affidavit and Exhibits, Memorandum of Law..........1

Defendant's Affirmation in Opposition....................................................................2

Claim No. 105066 alleges that on October 25, 2000, claimant, an inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford), was confronted by Linda Barrett, a civilian employee of DOCS. Barrett allegedly accused claimant of having a sexual relationship with Barrett's boyfriend or husband, Correction Officer "Gil," who is assigned to Beacon Correctional Facility (Beacon) (Claim, ¶ 7). Claimant denied the accusation and Barrett allegedly grabbed claimant and choked her. The other inmates protested and Barrett released claimant. Claimant was then approached by Barrett's supervisor, Kimberly Gerwer, regarding the incident and they discussed the matter in Gerwer's office. Barrett allegedly burst into Gerwer's office and grabbed claimant's wrist and repeatedly slammed it on Gerwer's desktop. At Gerwer's insistence, Barrett stopped. Subsequently, claimant spoke with the facility's superintendent, Elaine Lord, about the incident. According to claimant, Lord reviewed Barrett's personnel file in the presence of claimant and indicated to claimant that Barrett should not have been working at Bedford. Claimant's affidavit indicates that she learned that, prior to October 2000, Barrett had accused an inmate at Beacon of having a sexual relationship with Correction Officer Gil and that Barrett was transferred to Bedford because she posed a threat to the inmate at Beacon.

The claim alleges that, inter alia, the incident with Barrett exacerbated claimant's symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and that defendant was negligent in its hiring, retaining, and supervising Barrett and in failing to provide claimant with a safe environment.
Claimant's Motion to Compel
Claimant now moves to compel defendant to produce Barrett's[1] personnel file, including any reprimands or disciplinary reports filed as a result of the October 25th incident, for the Court's in camera review to determine if there is relevant and material information therein. Defendant invokes Civil Rights Law § 50-a in opposition to claimant's motion. Civil Rights Law § 50-a(1) provides in pertinent part:
"[all] personnel records, used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of *** a department of correction of individuals employed as correction officers *** shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such *** correction officer except as may be mandated by lawful court order" (emphasis added).
Significantly, Barrett is not "employed as a correction officer[s]" and defendant has cited only one case which would extend the statutory benefits and protections of section 50-a to a civilian employee and that case is from a court of concurrent jurisdiction. On the papers before this Court, defendant has failed to establish that Barrett should be entitled to the 50-a privilege (see generally McKinney v State of New York, 111 Misc 2d 382 [court officers are not "correction officers" or "police officers" within the purview of the statute]).[2]

In any event, the statute provides for disclosure of such records when the party seeking the records has demonstrated "a clear showing of facts sufficient to warrant the judge to request records for review" (Civil Rights Law § 50-a[2]; see also People v Gissendanner, 48 NY2d 543, 550; Taran v State of New York, 140 AD2d 429, 432). Indeed, "[t]he legislative purpose was to prevent disclosure of officers' personnel records except when a legitimate need for them has been demonstrated sufficiently to obtain a court order" (Matter of Daily Gazette Co. v City of Schenectady, 93 NY2d 145, 155). This threshold requirement was designed to eliminate fishing expeditions into personnel files for collateral materials to be used for impeachment purposes (see Matter of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d 562, 568-69; Zarn v City of New York, 198 AD2d 220, 220-21). The statute was not intended to be used as a shield for matters "actually relevant to an issue in a pending proceeding" (Matter of Daily Gazette Co., 93 NY2d at 155).

Claimant has made a sufficient showing to warrant the Court's in camera review of Barrett's personnel records for any information that may be material and relevant to the prosecution of this claim (see Becker v City of New York, 162 AD2d 488; Lawrence v City of New York, 118 AD2d 758; Cox v New York City Housing Auth., 105 AD2d 663).

Accordingly, claimant's motion is GRANTED and defendant is directed to comply with claimant's discovery demand by delivering Barrett's personnel file to the Court for an in camera inspection. The Court will then examine the records for any relevant and material information that should be turned over to claimant.
Claimant's Motion for a Protective Order
Claimant also seeks a protective order regarding her medical and mental health records. Claimant concedes that she has put her physical and mental health in issue by commencing her action. However, due to her history of sexual and domestic violence, claimant seeks an order providing that her records not be disclosed to those outside the confines of this litigation and that specific safeguards be employed to maintain the confidentiality of such information. Claimant's attorney had drafted a proposed Stipulation regarding the confidentiality of the records (see Claimant's Ex. G). Defendant, however, did not consent to the Stipulation, nor make any persuasive arguments in opposition to claimant's proposal. Accordingly, the Court finds that, under the particular circumstances of this case, the terms of the proposed Stipulation are not unduly burdensome, and the Court GRANTS claimant's motion and adopts the terms of the Stipulation as follows:
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, that releases for the medical health records and the mental health records of the claimant in the above-captioned case shall be produced to defendant subject to the following limitations:
  1. All of claimant's medical health records or mental health records to the defendant shall be kept confidential by defendant. Subject to the provisions of paragraphs 2 and 3, defendant's counsel shall not:
  1. disclose or discuss these records except as is necessary to the conduct of this litigation, nor with anyone other than: (i) employees of defendant's counsel; (ii) Counsel for the Department of Correctional Services; (iii) employees of the Department of Correctional Services who would have access to these records under the provisions of the New York Mental Hygiene Law, and (iv) any expert medical witness or mental health witness consulted by defendant in connection with this action;
  2. make additional copies of these records, unless the copies are to be filed with the Court of Claims of the State of New York;
  3. use these records for any purpose other than this litigation.
  1. Before disclosing these records to a person described in paragraph (1)(a), counsel for defendant first shall deliver to the person to whom disclosure is to be made a copy of this Order, and shall advise such person that he/she shall not disclose these records to any other person,
  2. Any document covered by this Order which is to be filed with the Court of Claims of the State of New York, or any other court, shall be filed only in sealed envelopes on which shall be endorsed the caption of this action and a statement substantially in the following form:

This envelope contains documents or information subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Order dated October 23, 2002. The envelope shall not be opened nor the contents therein displayed or revealed except as provided, other than to the Court, except by Order of the Court.

  1. This Order shall not be deemed a waiver of either party's right at trial to object to admission into evidence of any document covered by this Order.


October 23, 2002
White Plains, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

[1] While defendant correctly notes that the discovery demand refers to Barrett and Sergeant Allen, claimant's motion papers are silent regarding Allen; therefore any issue regarding discovery with respect to Allen is not before this Court.
[2] Since the statute does not cover Barrett, she need not be given notice as a precursor to considering the merits of claimant's application (see generally Waxter v State of New York, Ct Cl, July 11, 2000, Bell, J., Claim No. 102256, M-61797).