New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

JOHNSON v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2002-019-533, Claim No. 104447, Motion Nos. M-64883, CM-65276


Synopsis


Claimant's motion to compel discovery is denied in part and granted in part; and State's cross-motion for a protective order is denied.

Case Information

UID:
2002-019-533
Claimant(s):
JOHNATHAN JOHNSON
Claimant short name:
JOHNSON
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
104447
Motion number(s):
M-64883
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-65276
Judge:
FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Claimant's attorney:
JOHNATHAN JOHNSON, PRO SE
Defendant's attorney:
HON. ELIOT SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General,of counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
May 30, 2002
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, a pro se inmate, moves for an order to compel discovery pursuant to CPLR 3124. The State of New York (hereinafter "State") opposes the motion and cross-moves for a protective order pursuant to CPLR 3103.


The Court has considered the following papers in connection with these motions:
  1. Claim, filed June 20, 2001.
  2. Verified Answer, filed July 17, 2001.
  3. Notice of Motion, dated March 6, 2002, and filed March 15, 2002.
  4. Affidavit of Johnathan Johnson, in support of motion, sworn to March 8, 2002, with attached exhibits.
  5. "Affirmation in Opposition to Compel (CPLR §3124) & Cross-Motion for Protective Order (CPLR §3103), Cross-Motion No. CM-65276, of Joseph F. Romani, AAG, dated April 3, 2002, and filed April 5, 2002, with attached exhibits.
During his incarceration at Southport Correctional Facility, Claimant alleges he has encountered the following three problems: (1) that an Officer Kapnolas has continuously searched his cell everyday that he works since April 2001; (2) that said Officer has verbally harassed him "each day since April 2001"; and (3) that said Officer removed a pair of new headphones from his cell on June 13, 2001. (Claim, ¶ 2). This Claim was filed with the Clerk of the Court on June 20, 2001 and served on the Attorney General's office via certified mail, return receipt requested, on June 22, 2001. The State filed a Verified Answer on July 17, 2001. Thereafter, Claimant avers that he sent a "Disclosure Request for the Production of Documents" to the State on January 16, 2002. (Exhibit E to State's papers). The State provided a Response to Claimant's Demand which was filed with the Clerk of the Court on February 19, 2002. Claimant sent a letter to the Assistant Attorney General objecting to the State's responses dated February 19, 2002. (Exhibit G to State's papers). The State informed Claimant in a letter dated February 21, 2002 that it was adhering to its original discovery response and that no additional responses would be forthcoming. (Exhibit H to State's papers). By way of this motion, Claimant seeks an order compelling the State to provide substantive responses to his original Demand. The State contends that Claimant's demand was overly burdensome, unreasonable and irrelevant, and requests a protective order limiting future discovery. The State also objects to what it describes as the threatening nature of Claimant's letter dated February 19, 2002.


Claimant's "Disclosure Request for the Production of Documents" and the State's responses thereto specifically state as follows:[1]

Demand #1
: Claimant's June 17, 2001, Grievance's Complaint under Southport 21216-01 Package complete.
Answer #1
: Claimant's June 17, 2001 grievance has nothing to do with this claim, which involves an April, 2001, alleged unreasonable searches and harassment and a June 13, 2001, claim for alleged lost headphones. The grievance from June 17, 2001, concerns use of a telephone.


Demand #2
: Claimant's June 17, 2001 Letter Complaint to Michael McGinnis Superintendent.....

Answer #2
: This letter concerns the use of telephone grievance as outline above, and is irrelevant to this claim.


Demand #3
: Claimant June 21, 2001 Letter complaint to...Deputy Superintendent for administrative services....

Answer #3
: Again, this request concerns matters outside the time frame of the above claim.


Demand #4
: Claimant June 27, 2001 letter complaint to Michael McGinnis superintendent.

Answer #4
: See answer to #3, supra.


Demand #5
: Claimant's June 27, 2001, letter- requested telephone print-out.

Answer #5
: See answer to #4, supra.


Demand #6
: Claimant's June 10, 2001 computer print-out for telephone use at Southport Corr. Facility.

Answer #6
: See answer to #5, supra.


Demand #7
: Claimant's April-June, 2001, cell search log Southport.

Answer #7
: This is an overly broad, burdensome, unreasonable and irrelevant request for voluminous documents due to the fact claimant was housed in nine different cells during the time frame April-June, 2001.


Demand #8
: Claimant's files of April-June, 2001 unit supervisor notified of cell entered by prison guard Kapnolas pursuant to Directive 4933 at XI(B).

Answer #8
: See answer to #7, supra.


Demand #9
: Claimant's files of April-June 2001, unscheduled cell searches pursuant to Directive 4910, control of and search for contraband.

Answer #9
: See answer to #8, supra.


Demand #10
: Claimant's files of April-June, 2001 Documentation-unit logs (a-f).

Answer #10
: See answer to #9, supra.


(Exhibits E & F to State's papers).



Generally, a motion to compel may be brought if a party fails to respond to "[a]ny request, notice, interrogatory, demand, question or order under this article, except a notice to admit under section 3123...." (CPLR 3124). Of course, items sought in discovery must be material and necessary in relation to the pending action. (CPLR 3101). The Court has reviewed the Demand and Responses and finds as follows:


Demands #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: These demands all refer to letters/complaints/print-outs dated either June 10, 17, 21 or 27, 2001. The State does not contend that these documents do not exist, but rather represents none are material and necessary to this claim because they relate to the "use of a telephone" or are "outside the time frame of this claim."[2] (Exhibit F to State's papers). Claimant does not dispute that said documents relate to a telephone incident which is not referenced in this Claim nor has he explained how these documents are in any way related to the matters at hand. Accordingly, Claimant has not established that the documents sought in Demands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are material and necessary to this Claim and, as such, this Court will neither direct their disclosure or, for that matter, an in camera review of the same. Claimant's motion to compel additional responses to his Disclosure Request for the Production of Documents, Demands #1 through 6, is denied.


Demand #7: Claimant's Demand #7 requested copies of "Claimant's April-June, 2001, cell search log." The State refused such disclosure on the grounds that such request was overly broad, burdensome, unreasonable and irrelevant because it would involve "[v]oluminous documents due to the fact claimant was housed in nine different cells during the time frame April-June, 2001." (Exhibits E & F to State's Papers). In view of this Claim's allegations relating to cell searches the Court finds that the documents are material and necessary to this claim. The State's protestations relative to the volume of the documents involved are without merit. Although it is unclear from this record whether a "cell search log" exists separate and apart from a general "log book", which would seem to minimize the documents to be searched, in either event the fact that this Claimant may well have been moved around within a facility does not negate the State's obligation to produce material and necessary documents in the first instance. That having been said, however, the State can certainly attempt to narrow its search attempt by limiting its search to the days and hours worked by the named Officer. Additionally, the State is permitted to redact confidential information contained in such log books relating to non-party inmates and/or facility employees. In sum, Claimant's motion to compel a response to Demand #7 is granted.


Demands #8, 9 and 10: The State has objected to these demands as being overly broad, unduly burdensome and irrelevant. The Court agrees. Claimant has not described with reasonable particularity or, for that matter, with any specificity, the items he seeks so as to enable the State to reasonably identify what information is sought and to conduct a search therefor. (CPLR 3120 [a] [2]). It is worth noting that although Claimant is a pro se inmate he is an experienced litigator in the Court of Claims and has previously been involved in enough discovery disputes to understand the need for specificity.[3]These and other decisions from the Court of Claims are available via the Court of Claims website at http://www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us. Accordingly, Claimant's motion to compel a response to Demands #8, 9 and 10 is denied.


The State also cross-moved for a protective order pursuant to CPLR 3103 in order to limit continued abuse by Claimant of the various discovery devices available under Article 31. Although the State's main focus in the cross-motion is Claimant's requests for immaterial and unnecessary information having no relation to the pending claim, the State also objects to Claimant's use of threatening language. More specifically, Claimant's letter dated February 19, 2002 included the following sentence: "[e]ither you responses [sic] or I'll go to the court and make you do what my demands requests [sic]. You have until the 28th February 2002 to make your responses." (Exhibit G to State's papers).


Pursuant to CPLR 3103, the Court may at any time issue an order "[t]o prevent unreasonable annoyance, expense, embarrassment, disadvantage, or other prejudice to any person or the courts." With respect to the State's request for a protective order relative to discovery demands unrelated to this claim, this Court finds that the denial of Claimant's motion to compel such discovery to be sufficient. Claimant is on notice, however, that discovery demands should be limited to material and relevant to the allegations contained in this claim and not otherwise privileged according to the CPLR. With respect to the State's objection to the tone of Claimant's letter quoted above, the Court attributes the tone more to Claimant's inability to clearly articulate his point rather than an intent to make an overt threat. That having been said, of course, Claimant is cautioned to avoid the use in the future of any language that could be construed as threatening. Accordingly, the Court denies the State's cross-motion for a protective order.


Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, it is ORDERED that Claimant's motion to compel discovery, Motion No. M-64883 is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART in accordance with the foregoing, and


It is FURTHER ORDERED that the State's Cross-Motion for a protective order, Cross-Motion No. CM-65276, is DENIED.


May 30, 2002
Binghamton, New York

HON. FERRIS D. LEBOUS
Judge of the Court of Claims




[1]The Court has not attempted to mimic Claimant's writing style and use of underlining, brackets, etc. and has omitted such punctuation. Additionally, the Court has omitted other either illegible information or information not relevant to this determination as denoted by the use of ellipses.
[2]The Court has not been provided with a copy of any of these documents.

[3]A review of recent Court of Claims decisions revealed 10 recent or pending cases involving this Claimant including:

1. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., July 18, 2000, Lebous, J., Claim No. 103182, Motion No. M-61687 [10 (6) application on three separate bailment causes of action denied];
2. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., August 21, 2000, McNamara, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-61689 [10 (6) application denied];
3. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., September 7, 2000, Lebous, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-62129 [motion for reconsideration of denial of 10 (6) application denied; see Motion No. M-61105];
4. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., November 1, 2000, Corbett, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-60874 [10 (6) application relating to denial of regular meals denied];
5. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., March 8, 2001, Lebous, J., Claim No. 103182, Motion No. M-63049 [motion to compel discovery denied];
6. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., March 8, 2001, Lebous, J., Claim No. 103185, Motion No. M-62922 [motion to compel discovery denied];
7. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., April 12, 2001, Corbett, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-62820 [reargument denied on previous denial of 10 (6) relief; see Motion No. M-61688];
8. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., April 12, 2001, Corbett, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-62889 [reargument denied on previous denial of 10 (6) relief; see Motion No. M-61690];
9. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., September 4, 2001, Bell, J., Claim No. None, Motion No. M-63583 [application to file late notice of claim for 10 year old bailment claim time barred];
10. Johnson v State of New York, Ct Cl., August 10, 2001, Lebous, J., Claim Nos. 103182, 103185, 103725, Motion No. M-63584 [motion to compel discovery denied].