New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MEDINA v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-044-590, Claim Nos. 111093, 111940, Motion No. M-73913


Synopsis


Court denied in part and granted in part inmate claimant’s motion to compel additional responses to discovery demands in three different claims

Case Information

UID:
2007-044-590
Claimant(s):
ANTHONY MEDINA
Claimant short name:
MEDINA
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
111093, 111940
Motion number(s):
M-73913
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
CATHERINE C. SCHAEWE
Claimant’s attorney:
ANTHONY MEDINA, pro se
Defendant’s attorney:
HON. ANDREW M. CUOMO, ATTORNEY GENERALBY: Joseph F. Romani, Assistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
December 24, 2007
City:
Binghamton
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)

.
Decision

Claimant, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed Claim No. 111093 on July 1, 2005 to recover for: 1) personal injuries allegedly received as the result of an assault by correction officers employed at Southport Correctional Facility on February 21, 2005 (the assault), and 2) the loss or destruction of his personal property (legal papers) which occurred on February 16, 2005 (the property incident). Defendant State of New York (defendant) answered and asserted various affirmative defenses. Claimant filed Claim No. 111940 on February 2, 2006 to recover for wrongful confinement and defendant answered. Claimant now moves to compel disclosure in both claims,[1] specifically for defendant to provide more responsive answers to certain interrogatories.[2] Claimant asserts that AAG Romani objected to claimant’s initial set of interrogatories, but provided responses to claimant’s revised interrogatories. Claimant argues however, that the answers provided are either non-responsive, general in nature, or evasive, and he requests that the Court order defendant to provide more detailed responses to those interrogatories.

Initially, claimant has failed to file his discovery demands with the Clerk of the Court as is required by the Rules of the Court of Claims [22 NYCRR] § 206.5 (c).[3] In any event, claimant has attached a copy of the demands to his motion papers, and thus the Court may review whether defendant’s responses were appropriate.

With respect to the set of interrogatories served in Claim No. 111093, claimant asserts that virtually all of the responses are improper. Interrogatory “a” requests that defendant identify all witnesses who have knowledge of the assault, and Interrogatory “b” requests the names of anyone who was a witness to either the assault or the property incident. Defendant provided the names and identification numbers of three inmates and the names of four correction officers. Claimant contends that defendant’s responses to Interrogatories “a” and “b” were evasive and not fully responsive. Claimant argues that defendant has merely provided the names that claimant set forth in the claim, and that defendant has failed to provide the names of other officers that were present. Defendant has provided answers to those two interrogatories, and will be bound by those responses. At this point, there is no basis for the Court to find that the answers are insufficient.

Claimant’s Interrogatory “c” requests the identity of anyone who made oral or written statements relating to the alleged assault, and Interrogatory “d” seeks production of documents/reports that are required to be prepared in situations involving excessive force. Defendant responded that such information was “[t]o be requested and provided, if available, at a later date.” Claimant contends that those answers are non-responsive and that he is not required to request such information a second time. Claimant has misinterpreted defendant’s response and believes that AAG Romani wants claimant to request the information again, perhaps through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Although defendant’s responses might have been more specific, it is reasonably apparent that counsel intended to request the information from the appropriate personnel at the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), and if such information was available, defendant would provide it to claimant at a later date. Given that defendant’s responses were filed in July 2007, the Court expects that the requested information should be available in the near future, certainly no later than February 22, 2008.

Interrogatory “f” seeks the identity of “all statutes, rules, policies, regulations, DOCS directives, manuals, and inter and intra-memoranda which relates [sic] to, and governs [sic] the use of force by a correction official towards an inmate.” Claimant asserts that defendant’s response - which was that the use of force was authorized pursuant to Directive 4944 - is incomplete, as it did not address the remaining items requested. While a failure to disclose the existence of any other applicable statutes, rules, or regulations could as a general rule result in preclusion, that potential remedy would not necessarily be beneficial to claimant. Accordingly, defendant is directed to either produce the statutes, rules, or regulations that may be relevant to claimant’s cause of action, to the extent that they exist, or to affirmatively state that those items do not exist.

Interrogatory “g” requests that defendant state its version of the assault and the defenses to be asserted at trial. Defendant’s response merely referred claimant to the verified answer. The Court finds that defendant’s answer is not responsive. Claimant’s request is in essence a request for an amplification of the affirmative defenses, which is more commonly sought in a demand for a bill of particulars (see CPLR 3041). Nevertheless, and regardless of the terminology, claimant is clearly entitled to have defendant particularize the affirmative defenses which it plans to assert at trial (see generally, Siegel, NY Prac § 238, at 400 [4th ed]). Defendant is directed to provide a particularization of the affirmative defenses that it plans to assert at the trial of the first cause of action in Claim No. 111093 within 20 days of the filing of this Decision and Order. Claimant’s request for the State’s version of the facts, however, is not sufficiently specific to be appropriate within the confines of an interrogatory. Once claimant receives defendant’s particularization of the affirmative defenses, he may be able to formulate more specific requests and serve them in a second interrogatory.

Claimant also asserts that defendant’s answers to Interrogatories “h,” “i,” “j,” “k,” “l,” “m,” “p,” and “q” are non-responsive. Defendant’s identical responses to those interrogatories are that the information was “[t]o be requested and provided, if available, at a later date.” Again, claimant misconstrues defendant’s responses as indicating that the information will not be provided unless claimant makes another request for that information. As the Court previously stated, defendant’s responses should be interpreted to mean that counsel has requested the information from DOCS and that if the information is available, counsel will provide it to claimant at that later time. Again, the Court expects that the information should be available to claimant no later than February 22, 2008.

Claimant’s Interrogatory “n” requested all documents which relate to the assault, but have not been produced because of reasons of privilege “or otherwise.” Defendant responded that no such documents exist. Claimant argues that because defendant has not yet produced any of the documents requested in claimant's other demands, AAG Romani has lied in a sworn statement. Claimant’s argument is clearly without merit. Once defendant ascertains the existence of the other documents, those items will be provided to claimant. AAG Romani’s statement may be reasonably interpreted to indicate that defendant does not have any additional documents (which relate to the assault) beyond those already requested that it will claim are exempt from disclosure. Defendant’s response is not false, as counsel will provide claimant with the previously requested documents, to the extent that they exist.

Concerning the second cause of action in the same claim, for the property incident, claimant contends that defendant improperly refused to answer the first three interrogatories.[4] Interrogatory “a” sought information on whether claimant was relocated from B-Block to A-Block by Sergeant Hannah and Correction Officer Jayne. Interrogatory “b” was to explain the purpose of removing staples and bindings from claimant’s legal materials, and if the purpose was contained in a document, to identify the document. Interrogatory “c” was to identify all people who made an oral or written statement concerning the property incident. Defendant’s responses to those three interrogatories were that the information would “be requested and provided, if available, at a later date.” Again, defendant is not refusing to supply the information. AAG Romani must first obtain the material from DOCS before he can provide it to claimant. As previously stated, the Court expects that this information will be forthcoming in the very near future, and certainly by February 22, 2008.

Interrogatory “d” requested defendant’s version of the property incident and the defenses to be asserted at trial. Defendant’s response was to refer claimant to the verified answer. Again, as the Court stated above, claimant’s request, although more appropriately contained in a demand for a bill of particulars (see CPLR 3041), in essence seeks an amplification of the affirmative defenses which defendant intends to assert at trial. The request is proper and defendant is directed to provide claimant with a particularization of the affirmative defenses, if any, which it intends to prove at the trial with respect to the property incident cause of action contained in Claim No. 111093, within 20 days of the filing of this Decision and Order.[5]

Claimant states that Interrogatory “e” applies to both the assault and the property incident, and argues that requesting the identities of individuals who assisted in preparing defendant’s responses was proper and should be answered. Defendant objected to that interrogatory as irrelevant, immaterial and improper. The Court finds that the identity of the individuals who may have provided that information is irrelevant and the request is improper (see e.g. Faith v Boston Old Colony Ins. Co., 76 AD2d 900 [1980]).

With respect to the interrogatories served in Claim No. 111940, claimant asserts that defendant’s responses were evasive, non-responsive and misleading. Interrogatory 1 requested that defendant describe in detail the process and procedure in reviewing the appeal from a Tier III disciplinary hearing and, if the procedure was contained in a written policy, directive, manual or other document, a copy of that item. Interrogatory 2 appears to seek the same information, as it requested all documents maintained by DOCS which concern Tier III hearings and the appeal process. Defendant responded that the DOCS directives concerning Superintendent (Tier III) Hearings and Appeals consisted of four pages and would be reproduced at a cost of $0.25 per page. Defendant’s responses were appropriate.

Interrogatory 3 requested defendant to state and explain the reason that his Tier III determination of December 21, 2004 was affirmed. Defendant’s response was that the decision was rendered pursuant to Section 254.8 of Chapter V. The Court finds that statement to be non-responsive. Defendant merely cited that portion of the regulations which discusses the appeal procedure and the determinations available to the Commissioner (7 NYCRR 254.8). Notably, however, defendant responded appropriately to Interrogatory 4, which requested that defendant state the procedural grounds on which the Tier III determination was reversed.[6] It is reasonably apparent that in Interrogatory 3, claimant was seeking the same type of information regarding the initial affirmance of that determination. Defendant is directed to respond to Interrogatory 3 by providing the basis for the affirmance of claimant's Tier III determination. Interrogatory 5 requested the name of the individual or individuals who assisted in the preparation of the responses. As the Court previously stated in this Decision and Order, the State is bound by the answers provided in response to claimant’s interrogatories, and thus, the identity of the individuals who may have provided that information is not relevant and the request is not proper (see e.g. Faith v Boston Old Colony Ins. Co., supra).

In conclusion, claimant’s motion is granted to the extent that defendant is directed to provide more thorough responses (within 20 days of the filing of this Decision and Order) to: 1) Interrogatory “g” pertaining to the first cause of action in Claim No. 111093; 2) Interrogatory “d” pertaining to the second cause of action in Claim No. 111093; and 3) Interrogatory 3 pertaining to Claim No. 111940.


December 24, 2007
Binghamton, New York

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


The following papers were read on claimant’s motion:

1) Notice of Motion filed on August 30, 2007; Affidavit of Anthony Medina sworn to on August 21, 2007, and attached exhibits.


2) Affirmation in Opposition of Joseph F. Romani, AAG, dated November 7, 2007.

Filed papers: Claim No. 111093 filed on July 1, 2005; Verified Answer to Claim No. 111093 filed on August 3, 2005; Claim No. 111940 filed on February 2, 2006; Verified Answer to Claim No. 111940 filed on March 3, 2006.



[1]. In his affidavit in support of this motion, claimant states that he has “chosen to consolidate both actions in to [sic] this motion to eliviate [sic] unnecessary delay and repetition.” While claimant appears to refer solely to consolidating the motions, claimant is advised that only the Court has the authority to consolidate claims (Court of Claims Act § 9 [5]; see also, CPLR 602 [a]). Therefore, to the extent that this motion may seek consolidation of Claim Nos. 111093 and 111940, it is denied. The Court finds that because there are no common questions of law or fact in the causes of action alleging assault, property loss and wrongfully confinement, consolidation is not warranted.
[2]. This motion was returnable September 26, 2007. Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Joseph F. Romani acknowledges that the motion was properly served, but states that it was apparently misplaced. AAG Romani requests that defendant’s responding papers which were submitted late on November 7, 2007, be considered in opposition to claimant’s motion. Because this motion to compel concerns the sufficiency of defendant’s discovery responses rather than a complete failure to respond, the lack of opposition papers is not detrimental to defendant. Thus, the Court finds no need to consider the proposed opposition papers.
[3]. However, defendant’s responses thereto were properly filed with the Clerk of the Court and forwarded to the Court.
[4]. Claimant set forth the interrogatories pertaining to the property incident in the same document as the interrogatories pertaining to the assault cause of action, but under a subheading entitled “Claim II.” It is readily apparent, however, that these interrogatories relate to claimant’s second cause of action in Claim No. 111093 for property damage.
[5]. As discussed earlier in this Decision and Order (see p 4, supra), claimant’s request for the State’s version of the facts within this interrogatory is not appropriate. However, claimant may be able to formulate more specific requests and serve them in a second interrogatory, after he receives defendant’s particularization of the affirmative defenses.
[6]. Defendant’s response was that “the Superintendent’s hearing was reversed . . . due to failure to interview requested witness (victim) or provide a written reason for denial.”