New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

PETTUS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-044-581, Claim No. 112504, Motion Nos. M-73404, M-73624, M-73626, CM-73630


Synopsis


Inmate claimant's motion to compel criminal histories and complaints pertaining to five correction officers who allegedly assaulted him was denied, and cross-motion for protective order granted, as such documents are generally exempt from disclosure and claimant failed to provide any showing of facts which would lead to Court review for possible production of same. Claimant's motion for assignment of counsel and speedy jury trial denied, and claimant cautioned that his conduct in making repetitive motions for identical relief previously denied by the Court could lead to sanctions for frivolous conduct in the future.

Case Information

UID:
2007-044-581
Claimant(s):
JAMES PETTUS
Claimant short name:
PETTUS
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
112504
Motion number(s):
M-73404, M-73624, M-73626
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-73630
Judge:
CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Claimant’s attorney:
JAMES PETTUS, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Roberto Barbosa, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
November 7, 2007
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed this claim against defendant State of New York (defendant) alleging that in April 2005, unknown correction officers used excessive force against him during a strip search, during which he incurred personal injuries. Claimant has now made three motions (Motion Nos. M-73404, M-73624, M-73626) in addition to those motions previously made pertaining to this claim, and defendant has submitted a cross motion in response thereto (Cross Motion No. CM-73630). In order to address the current motions and cross motion, a brief history of this claim is in order. Claimant was allegedly assaulted on April 8, 2005. In February 2006, claimant made a complaint to the Inspector General concerning the alleged assault. That office investigated the complaint and determined it to be unsubstantiated. Claimant then moved to compel production of a copy of the Inspector General’s Report (the Report). The Court conducted an in camera review and found that neither confidential sources nor sensitive information were contained in the Report (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, Apr. 5, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 112504, Motion No. M-72488). The Court found that no public interest concerns required maintaining the confidentiality of the Report, and ordered that defendant release the Report to claimant after redacting the Inspector General’s case number and the investigator’s name and signature (id.).

After requesting the Report, claimant demanded the photographs of five named correction officers. Claimant neglected to supply an affidavit in support of his motion, and was granted additional time in which to provide an affidavit containing the basis for his request for photographs of those particular individuals (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, Mar. 26, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 112504, Motion No. M-72699). The motion was thereafter denied without further order of the Court, based upon claimant’s failure to supply a supporting affidavit within the time granted (id.)
MOTION NO. M-73404 AND CROSS MOTION NO. CM-73630
In a discovery demand dated May 7, 2007, claimant next requested that defendant produce: 1) “all” and “any” items attached or related to the Inspector General’s investigation of the alleged assault, 2) “all” and “any” “criminal-rap-sheet[s]” for all persons working in the draft room on April 8, 2005, specifically five named correction officers, and 3) “all” and “any” complaints lodged against those five officers and contained in their “personal” [sic] files. Claimant thereafter served two further demands upon defendant: the “ ‘second’ [good-faith] attempt” dated May 14, 2007, and the “ ‘third’ [good-faith] attempt” dated May 21, 2007, both of which were identical in substance to the first demand.[1] Claimant now moves to compel defendant to produce the requested documents. Defendant opposes the motion and cross-moves for a protective order.

CPLR 3120 (2) provides that the time within which to respond to a discovery demand shall be no less than 20 days. Claimant’s affidavit was executed on May 14, 2007, only seven days after his first demand, and at the same time that he allegedly prepared the second “good-faith attempt.” Further, although claimant’s notice of motion is dated May 28, 2007, it was filed with the Clerk of the Court on May 16, 2007.[2] Because claimant moved to compel defendant’s compliance with his discovery demands before the time to respond had expired, claimant’s motion is premature, and accordingly is denied.

While claimant’s motion to compel was pending, defendant responded to the demands by refusing to provide the requested information. Defendant now cross-moves for a protective order. Defendant refused to provide claimant with any items attached to the Report or related to the Inspector General’s investigation, arguing that such request was both overbroad and irrelevant, and stated that defendant had previously provided the Report. Generally, reports developed by the Inspector General’s Office during the course of an investigation against correction officers are protected from disclosure pursuant to the public interest privilege (Lowrance v State of New York, 185 AD2d 268 [1992]). As previously set forth, in its earlier consideration of the issue the Court weighed “the State’s interest in maintaining the integrity of its internal investigations and protecting the confidentiality of sources who provide sensitive information within a prison context [against the claimant’s interest] in seeking access to [the Report]” (id. at 269), and ordered disclosure of the Report in redacted form (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, Apr. 5, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 112504, Motion No. M-72488, supra). Claimant is not entitled to any further information concerning the underlying investigation.

Defendant declined to provide claimant with the “criminal-rap-sheet[s]” for the five named correction officers, stating that the demand was irrelevant. Criminal histories (“rap sheets”) are generally exempt from disclosure (Matter of Woods v Kings County Dist. Attorney’s Off., 234 AD2d 554 [1996]), and claimant has failed to advance any arguable relevance for disclosure of those documents (see Collins v State of New York, Ct Cl., Sept. 7, 2004, Hudson, J., Claim No. 108990, Motion No. M-68360 [UID # 2004-034-564]).

Lastly, claimant’s request for “all” and “any” complaints made against the five named corrections officers is improper. Defendant’s response to claimant’s demand was again that the request was irrelevant. The Court of Appeals, in Matter of Prisoners’ Legal Servs. of N.Y. v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs. (73 NY2d 26 [1988]), held that inmate grievances against State correction officers constitute personnel records pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 50-a, and therefore may not be disclosed without either written consent of the officers or a court order. Moreover, Civil Rights Law § 50-a (2) provides that “[n]o such [court] order shall issue without a clear showing of facts sufficient to warrant the judge to request records for review.” Claimant’s affidavit clearly fails to satisfy the requirements of the statute. Accordingly, defendant’s request for a protective order with respect to this request is also granted.

In conclusion, claimant’s Motion No. M-73404 is denied and defendant’s Cross Motion No. CM-73630 is granted in its entirety.
MOTION NO. M-73624
In his notice of motion dated June 21, 2007, claimant requests that defendant be compelled to interview the five correction officers working on April 8, 2005 to obtain affidavits which state that he was not assaulted in the draft room at Elmira Correctional Facility on that date. Defendant opposes the motion.

Initially, claimant made no discovery demand prior to making this motion to compel disclosure (see CPLR 3124). The motion is therefore premature and could be denied solely on that basis. Further, to the extent that the motion might be considered an initial request for discovery, it is not a statutorily authorized device for obtaining disclosure (see CPLR 3102 [a]). Accordingly, claimant’s Motion No. M-73624 to compel execution and production of affidavits from the five correction officers is denied.
MOTION NO. M-73626
Finally, claimant moves for assignment of counsel and a speedy jury trial. Defendant opposes the motion. It should first be noted that the Court previously denied an earlier motion for a speedy jury trial in this claim (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, May 15, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 112504, Motion No. M-72997). Further, the Court has denied another motion for a speedy jury trial which also requested assignment of counsel (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 4, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 112504, Motion Nos. M-73126, M-73240 [UID #2007-044-547]). Presumably before he received the Decision and Order on Motion Nos. M-73126 and M-73240 requesting assignment of counsel and a speedy jury trial,[3] claimant filed this motion on June 15, 2007 seeking the same relief.[4] Claimant is now strongly warned that the Court considers his conduct in making repetitive motions for the identical relief previously denied to be potentially frivolous, and that sanctions for similar motion practice may well be forthcoming in the future.

Claimant’s Motion No. M-73626 is denied in its entirety.

November 7, 2007
Binghamton, New York

HON. CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Judge of the Court of Claims


The following papers were read on claimant’s motions and defendant’s cross motion:

1) Notice of Motion (Motion No. M-73404) filed on May 16, 2007; “Affidavit/Affirmation” of James Pettus sworn to on May 14, 2007, and attached exhibits.

2) Defendant’s Notice of Cross Motion (Cross Motion No. CM-73630) filed on June 28, 2007; Affirmation of Roberto Barbosa, AAG, dated June 26, 2007, and attached Exhibits A through D.

3) Notice of Motion (Motion No. M-73624) filed on June 22, 2007; “Affidavit/Affirmation” of James Pettus sworn to on June 21, 2007.

4) Affirmation in Opposition of Roberto Barbosa, AAG, dated July 23, 2007, and attached Exhibits A and B.

5) Notice of Motion (Motion No. M-73626) filed on June 15, 2007; “Affidavit/Affirmation” of James Pettus sworn to on April 17, 2007, and attached exhibits.

6) Affirmation in Opposition of Roberto Barbosa, AAG, dated July 23, 2007, and attached Exhibits A and B.


Filed papers: Claim filed on July 6, 2006; Verified Answer filed on July 21, 2006.

[1]. Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Roberto Barbosa affirms that the first and second demands were received on May 14, 2007 and the third demand was received on May 16, 2007 (Affirmation of Roberto Barbosa, ¶¶ 5-6).
[2]. Not surprisingly, claimant’s third “good-faith attempt,” attached to the motion papers, was dated approximately one week after the motion was filed.
[3]. However, by the time he made this motion, claimant had presumably received the Decision and Order pertaining to his request for a speedy jury trial on Motion No. M-72997.
[4]. Claimant also moved for assignment of counsel and a speedy jury trial in additional, unrelated claims. Although those motions were denied as moot, he was again instructed that there is no right to a speedy trial in a civil action, that prisoner pro se claims are scheduled at the discretion of the court, and that there is no right to a jury trial in the Court of Claims (Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, Nov. 2, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 113751, Motion Nos. M-73637, M-73639, Cross Motion No. CM-73675; Pettus v State of New York, Ct Cl, Nov. 1, 2007, Schaewe, J., Claim No. 113823, Motion Nos. M-73659, M-73674).