New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims
SHEILS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, # 2007-038-503, Claim No. 107341, Motion No. M-72509

Synopsis

Claimant's motion to compel defendant to produce identities of inmates who were on the medical clinic transport bus from which claimant fell granted; defendant did not establish that inmates' "medical privacy" would be invaded.

Case information

UID: 2007-038-503
Claimant(s): KEVIN SHEILS
Claimant short name: SHEILS
Footnote (claimant name) :
Defendant(s): THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
Third-party claimant(s):
Third-party defendant(s):
Claim number(s): 107341
Motion number(s): M-72509
Cross-motion number(s):
Judge: W. BROOKS DEBOW
Claimant's attorney: KEVIN SHEILS, Pro Se
Defendant's attorney: ANDREW M. CUOMO, Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Belinda A. Wagner, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:
Signature date: February 6, 2007
City: Albany
Comments:
Official citation:
Appellate results:
See also (multicaptioned case)

Decision

Claimant, an inmate incarcerated in a State correctional facility, filed a claim seeking money damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained while he was being transported by the Department of Correctional Services. The amended claim alleges that claimant was transported in a van from Clinton Correctional Facility to Franklin Correctional Facility on July 5, 2002 for a "medical trip," and that the absence of running boards or a step stool caused him to fall as he exited the van. During the course of discovery, claimant requested that defendant produce the identity and inmate identification numbers of the seven inmates who were transported along with claimant. Defendant has declined to provide this information on the ground, inter alia, that the other inmates have a right to "medical privacy." Claimant now moves to compel defendant to produce the names of the other inmates who were in the van.

There exists in this State a policy in favor of broad disclosure, which requires the production of evidence that is material and necessary to the prosecution of an action (see CPLR 3101 [d]; Allen v Crowell-Collier Pub. Co., 21 NY2d 403, 407 [1968]). Thus, information that is relevant to the action should be produced (see Walsh v Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 289 AD2d 842, 843 [3d Dept 2001]). The names of eyewitnesses to an alleged incident are discoverable unless privileged (see Zellman v Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 40 AD2d 248, 251 [2d Dept 1973]; Peretz v Blekicki, 31 AD2d 934 [2d Dept 1969]). "Disclosure of the identity of a nonparty patient who may have been a witness to an alleged act of negligence or malpractice does not violate the privilege of confidentiality of treatment accorded those individuals under CPLR 4504 (subd [a]) and section 2803-c (subd 3 par f) of the Public Health Law" (Hirsch v Catholic Med. Ctr. of Brooklyn and Queens, 91 AD2d 1033, 1034 [2d Dept 1983]; Gechoff v Our Lady of Victory Hosp., 190 AD2d 1060 [4th Dept 1993]; cf. Gunn v Sound Shore Med. Ctr. of Westchester, 5 AD3d 435, 436-437 [2d Dept 2004] [identity of patients at cardiac rehabilitation center who witnessed plaintiff's accident would reveal their status as cardiac patients]).

Defendant's primary opposition to the motion is grounded in the inmates' "medical privacy." Presumably, defendant is relying upon privacy issues that are protected by physician-patient privilege (see CPLR 4504) or confidentiality rights deriving from the patients' bill of rights (see Public Health Law 2803-c). Assuming without deciding that defendant has standing to assert the inmates' privacy rights, defendant offers no proof that the inmates were medical patients (see Gechoff v Our Lady of Victory Hosp., supra). Moreover, even if the inmates were attending a medical clinic, there is nothing in the record that suggests their medical privacy would be compromised by mere production of their identity (compare Gunn v Sound Shore Med. Ctr. of Westchester, supra). Thus, there is no factual basis for defendant's reliance upon the inmates' right to "medical privacy." Inasmuch as defendant identifies no specific constitutional, statutory or regulatory basis for the inmates' right of privacy, the Court finds no basis upon which defendant may withhold otherwise discoverable information.

To the extent defendant argues that disclosure of the inmates' identities would be improper because they may have been paroled or may wish to have no contact with claimant, such arguments are misplaced and ultimately immaterial to the discoverability of their identities. Similarly, whether claimant actually intends to call these inmates as witnesses at trial, whether claimant can bear the financial burden of producing them at trial, or whether he can negotiate the logistics of taking their depositions upon written questions are matters for another day. Claimant alleges that these inmates were witnesses to the alleged incident and thus, they may have information that is relevant to the prosecution of this claim. In the absence of a legally supportable reason to withhold disclosure of their identities, claimant's motion to compel must be granted.

Nevertheless, in light of the institutional nature of this claim, there may be bona fide security concerns relating to the disclosure of the identity of inmates. If so, defendant may move for a protective order (see CPLR 3103). Such motion, if any, shall be returnable before this Court on March 7, 2007.

Accordingly, claimant's motion to compel the production of the names and institutional identification numbers of the inmates at issue is hereby GRANTED, and defendant is directed to disclose such information within 30 days of the date of filing of this decision and order. Claimant's request to make a motion to depose said witnesses upon written questions is DENIED as premature. Any other relief sought by claimant that is not specifically addressed in this decision is DENIED.

February 6, 2007

Albany, New York

W. BROOKS DEBOW

Judge of the Court of Claims

Papers considered:

(1) Notice of Motion, dated October 26, 2006;

(2) Affidavit in Support of Kevin Sheils, sworn to October 25, 2006, with exhibits;

(3) Affirmation of Belinda A. Wagner, AAG, Opposing Motion to Compel, dated

November 7, 2006, with exhibits;

(4) Amended Claim, filed July 16, 2004.