New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

GARRIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-031-041, Claim No. 112131, Motion No. M-73094


Claimant has failed to demonstrate sufficient need for his assailants mental health records and the names of inmate witnesses to demonstrate notice of assailants violent propensities, especially in light of Defendant’s offer to produce assailant’s disciplinary history. Claimant’s motion to compel is denied

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:
Defendant’s attorney:
New York State Attorney General
BY: REYNOLDS E. HAHN, ESQ.Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 10, 2007

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


The following papers, numbered 1 through 3, were read on motion by Claimant for an order compelling disclosure from Defendant:
1. Claimant’s Notice of Motion, filed March 26, 2007;
2. Affirmation of Edward Sivin, Esq., dated March 19, 2007, with attached exhibits;
3. Affirmation of Reynolds E. Hahn, Esq., dated May 8, 2007, with attached exhibits. In his underlying claim filed on March 27, 2006, Claimant alleges a cause of action for failure to prevent an assault upon him by another inmate. The incident occurred in the kitchen at Groveland Correctional Facility (“Groveland”) at 3:30 a.m. on November 21, 2004. Claimant asserts that he was attacked by another inmate named Nathan Stuckey. Apparently, Mr. Stuckey threw a pot of hot oil on Claimant’s head and face. Claimant suffered burns to his head and face and hearing loss in his left ear. According to Claimant, Defendant knew that Mr. Stuckey had mental problems and presented a danger to other inmates prior to the incident.

With this motion, Claimant seeks an order compelling Defendant to: 1) turn over unredacted versions of the incident report and witness statements (those already produced by Defendant concealed the identification of inmate witnesses to the incident); and 2) furnish to the Court for in camera inspection a complete copy of the mental health records of Claimant’s assailant Nathan Stuckey.

With regard to the names and other identifying features of the inmate witnesses to the incident, I must balance Defendant’s concerns about disclosing such information with Claimant’s need for it in presenting his case. Defendant has identified a limited privilege relating to the need to keep inmate informant information confidential and to preserve prison security (see Cirale v 80 Pine St. Corp., 35 NY2d 113; Lowrance v State of New York, 185 AD2d 268). As for Claimant’s need for this information, to the extent that Claimant desires this information for purposes of demonstrating what occurred on the day of the incident, that aspect of the claim is not disputed by Defendant. Defendant has conceded that Claimant was attacked without provocation by inmate Nathan Stuckey and that Claimant suffered the alleged injuries as a result of the attack. Accordingly, factual information from the inmate witnesses as to the circumstances of the assault is not a necessary component of Claimant’s case.

To the extent that Claimant requires the identification of the inmate witnesses for purposes of acquiring further information relative to their perspective on Claimant’s mental health, it’s difficult to imagine that such testimony could be relevant. The issue at hand is not whether Mr. Stuckey suffered from a mental illness, but rather, whether Defendant had prior notice that Mr. Stuckey was so dangerous that he should not have been permitted in the general inmate population. Defendant maintains a record, called an inmate disciplinary history, which reflects all known infractions of prison disciplinary rules, including instances of violence. These records would reveal any instances of institutional violence in which Mr. Stuckey has been involved. In its opposition to this motion, Defendant has indicated that it has no objection to producing, for in camera inspection, Mr. Stuckey’s Classification History which, according to Defendant, includes “inmate Stuckey’s medical and mental health status, Crime and Sentence Information, Reception/Classification System Legal Date Computation, Personal Characteristics Sheet, Test Results and Evaluation, Classification Analysis, Description of Pattern of Criminal Behavior and Disciplinary History” (Defendant’s Opposing Affirmation, para. 9). I, therefore, find no compelling reason to direct the disclosure of this information.

With regard to Claimant’s request for Mr. Stuckey’s mental health records, Mental Hygiene Law § 33.13(c) provides that, with certain exceptions, records maintained by the Office of Mental Health or the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities "shall not be released by the offices or its facilities to any person or agency outside of the offices." However, as relevant here, the records may be released “pursuant to an order of a court of record requiring disclosure upon a finding by the court that the interests of justice significantly outweigh the need for confidentiality . . . .” The statute also provides, in subdivision (f), that disclosure under any of the exceptions "shall be limited to that information necessary in light of the reason for disclosure."

I do not doubt that Mr. Stuckey’s mental health records may potentially contain non-medical factual information that would be useful and relevant. However, I find that the best source for the information Claimant desires is his assailant’s disciplinary history, which is among the documents Defendant has agreed to produce for in camera inspection. Accordingly, in light of Defendant’s offer to produce Mr. Stuckey’s Classification History, the public interest in preserving the confidentiality of the other records Claimant requests outweighs Claimant’s need for the information.

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED, that Defendant shall, within 45 days of the filed date of this decision and order, produce for in camera review an unredacted copy of inmate Stuckey’s Classification History. This shall be accompanied by a second copy of those same documents reflecting any redactions Defendant would propose prior to production of the documents to Claimant, and it is further

ORDERED, that Claimant’s motion to compel is in all other respects denied.

September 10, 2007
Rochester, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims