New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEDINA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2004-032-045, Claim No. 106664, Motion No. M-68123


Rulings on numerous demands for discovery and inspection (CPLR 3120).

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):

Claimant's attorney:
Anthony Medina, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney:
Hon. Eliot Spitzer, NYS Attorney General
By: Paul F. Cagino, Assistant Attorney General,Of Counsel
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
June 14, 2004

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


This claim arises from an incident that occurred on August 13, 2002 at Clinton Correctional Facility. Claimant, an inmate in that facility, alleges that he was assaulted by three correction officers, whom he identified as Officer Mitchell, Sergeant D. Eilers, and another sergeant whose name was unknown to claimant. According to claimant, he was called out of his cell and taken to the officers' station by two sergeants who said they were investigating a grievance he had filed earlier in the month. Before there was any discussion of the grievance, however, he was struck from behind by Officer Mitchell, who had been waiting inside the office. Following the assault, in which all three officers are said to have participated, claimant was returned to his cell. He further alleges that his requests for medical treatment were ignored for three days thereafter.

By this motion, claimant seeks an order directing defendant to provide seventeen listed documents for discovery and inspection. Claimant previously served two demands for discovery on defendant, the first in July 2003 and the second in September 2003. Although defense counsel responded on both occasions, claimant argues that these responses were inadequate and deprived him of information to which he is entitled.

At the outset, the Court notes that the only proper subject of this motion are the items and things that were demanded in claimant's two previous discovery demands. To the extent that any of the seventeen listed items are being requested for the first time, this motion is premature, for a motion to compel discovery is appropriate only if and when a party "fails to respond to or comply with" a legitimate discovery demand (CPLR 3124).

The prior demands and defendant's responses will be considered individually:

July 24, 2003 demand

1(a)-(c): Claimant's medical records, medical test results, and photographs

Response: These items are available for claimant to inspect and, if he wishes, to copy upon written request to the facility Inmate Records Coordinator.

This response is satisfactory. CPLR 3120 requires only that the demanded items be made available for inspection.

1(d): Copies of four identified Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) Directives

Response: Statement that all DOCS Directives, except those classified as confidential, are available for inspection in the prison library.

This response is satisfactory. A party is not obliged to produce documents or other items that the demanding party can access independently (Penn Palace Operating, Inc. v Two Penn Plaza Associates , 215 AD2d 231 [1st Dept 1995]).

1(f): Copy of the log book from August 13, 2002 between 5:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M.

Response: A copy of the log book has already been provided to claimant (Medina affidavit, par 26).

1(g): Names of correctional staff assigned to D-Block on the day in question.

1(h): Names of correctional staff in D-Block on the evening of the day in question.

Response: Although defense counsel responded, accurately, that this type of information is not proper for a notice of discovery and inspection, these names were subsequently provided to claimant (id).

1(i): "any and all ‘TO AND FROM' reports"

Response: Too ambiguous a demand

Defense counsel is correct. A party's use of "all" and "any and all" in demands that are requesting more than one item are overly burdensome and most frequently indicate that the party is using discovery and inspection to conduct a "fishing expedition" (MacKinnon v MacKinnon,

245 AD2d 690, 691 [3d Dept 1997])

1(j): Names of officers assigned to investigate claimant's August 4, 2002 complaint

Response: Improper demand for a notice of discovery and inspection.

Although defense counsel is correct, the relevance of the information is unquestioned, the demand is sufficiently specific, and, because claimant is a layperson representing himself, the Court will direct defendant to produce this information without requiring further formal steps and demands.

1(k): Names of the two sergeants who filed an August 13, 2002 misbehavior report against claimant

Response: Improper demand for a notice of discovery and inspection

Again, defense counsel is correct. Since this demand is not repeated in the motion papers, the Court concludes that claimant no longer needs this information.

1(l): "any and all papers, memorandums, To and From reports filed in response to, or in reference to, claimant's complaint of the August 13, 2002 assault, the names of the officers assigned to investigate the allegations, the responses to claimant and others, the decisions rendered to the complaint, and the names and titles of any and all persons notified of the assault"

Response: Too ambiguous a demand

Defense counsel is correct, except that this demand does contain within it an unambiguous request for a copy of the file relating to the grievance or complaint that claimant filed in connection with the August 13, 2002 incident. Defendant is directed to respond to this portion of the demand by either producing the requested file or raising any relevant defense to it's production.

1(m): A full and complete copy of the Department of Correctional Services Employee's Manual

Response: Refers to the response to the request for Directives, which would imply that this manual can be obtained by inmates at the prison library.

Seeking a complete copy of the DOCS Employee's Manual appears to be something of a "fishing expedition," for much of the information contained therein would not be relevant to this action.

September 23, 2003 Demand

a) Employment records of Sergeant D. Eiler relating to complaints of assaults, excessive use of force, etc.

b) Employment records of Sergeant John Doe (the officer whose name was unknown to claimant) with the same description

c) Employment records of Officer Jason Weir, with same description

d) Employment records of R.N. II, M. Jones, relating to complaints of medical misconduct, negligence, and complaints of falsifying medical misconduct

e) Prior employment records of R.N., M. Jones and certification of his training

Response: Defense counsel provided a single statement in response to all of these demands, that they were "improper, abusive and irrelevant" to the claim. He also noted that personnel employment files "will not be disclosed. See Public Officers Law Section 50" [sic].[1]

Information from the personnel records of certain public employees, including correction officers, can be obtained only by following the procedures set forth in Civil Rights Law §50-a. The party seeking access must make a "clear showing of facts" indicating that the records would be relevant and material and give all interested parties an opportunity to be heard on the request.

In the situation presented here, the legal relevance of information contained in the personnel records of the individuals indicated must be questioned. "A general rule of evidence, applicable in both civil and criminal cases, is that it is improper to prove that a person did an act on a particular occasion by showing that he did a similar act on a different, unrelated occasion (Matter of Brandon's Estate, 55 NY2d 206, 210-211 [1982]; Prince-Richardson on Evidence [11th edition], §4-517). Exceptions have been recognized where such information would be relevant to 1) motive; 2) intent; 3) the absence of mistake or accident; 4) a common scheme or plan; or 5) identity (id. at 211, citing to People v Molineux, 168 NY 264 [1901]; see also People v Sandoval, 34 NY2d 371 [1974]), as long as the prejudicial effect does not outweigh the probative value (People v Ventimiglia, 52 NY2d 350 [1981]). In civil practice, evidence of a witness' conviction of a crime may be introduced "for the purpose of affecting the weight of his testimony" (CPLR 4513), but that refers only to a formal conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, not any lesser offense, such as the result of disciplinary proceeding or an accusation that was not fully adjudicated (Roe v Doe, 160 Misc 2d 1074 [Sup Ct, NY County 1994]).

Claimant has not indicated that he has any proposed use for information contained in these employees' personnel files other than to show, by reference to any previous similar acts, that they probably acted in a certain way on the occasion in question. Since this is not a permitted use, defendant need not make further response to these demands.

Claimant's motion is granted in part and denied in part, as set forth above.

June 14, 2004
Albany, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The following papers were read on claimant's motion for an order compelling the production of certain discovery.
1. Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit of Anthony Medina, pro se

2. Affirmation in Opposition of Paul F. Cagino, Esq., AAG

Filed papers: Claim; Answer

[1] Counsel later corrected this reference to Civil Rights Law §50-a, which is the statutory provision governing disclosure of the personnel records of certain governmental employees.