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July 12, 2004.

CITY OF NEW YORK, et al. Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN KOELTL, District Judge


This is a civil rights action alleging that officers of the New York City Police Department violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by wrongfully issuing him a summons. The plaintiff claims that he was issued the summons in retaliation for exercising his constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and because of racial animus. The defendants now object to the June 8, 2004 rulings by Magistrate Judge Pitman compelling defendant Police Officer Tara Cullen to disclose her home address for discovery purposes.

The Objections should be sustained only if the Magistrate Judge's ruling was clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); In re Buspirone Patent Litig., 210 F.R.D. 43, 52 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). An order is "clearly erroneous" when "the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Surles v. Air France, No. 00 Civ. 5004, 2001 WL 1142231, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2001) (internal quotation omitted). An order is "contrary to law" when it "fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure." Id. (internal quotation omitted).


  On June 8, 2004, Officer Cullen was produced for her deposition, and during the deposition certain discovery issues arose, including whether Officer Cullen should be required to disclose her home address on the record during the deposition. The parties sought judicial intervention and placed a telephone call to Magistrate Judge Pitman. The plaintiff argued that Officer Cullen should be required to disclose her home address, date of birth, and social security number because those things "in the normal run of the mill case would be pertinent to damages absent an indemnification agreement, the ability to [pay] punitive damages, salary, things like that." (See June 8, 2004 Tr. at 11.) The defendants objected arguing that the information is not relevant to any claim or defense and that disclosure would create a risk to the officer's safety.

  The Magistrate Judge rejected the request for the officer's social security number and birth date, but he ordered Officer Cullen to disclose her home address for the record at the deposition. (Id. at 14.) The Magistrate Judge dismissed the potential threat to the officer as speculative and found the information relevant and discoverable on the grounds that the plaintiff might want to investigate whether the defendant's neighbors have overheard her making racist remarks. (Id. at 14-15.) In a subsequent telephone call to the Magistrate Judge, the defendants reiterated their concern for the officer's safety and sought a protective order to ensure that the information would not be disclosed to the plaintiff himself. (Id. at 16-17.) Plaintiff's counsel had agreed that the information could be deemed confidential pursuant to a protective order already in place (see id. at 13-14), but he opposed withholding the information from his client, and the Magistrate Judge declined the request for a further protective order (id. at 17-21).


  The defendants object to the Magistrate Judge's rulings on the grounds that the information is irrelevant to the plaintiff's claims and should be protected because disclosure would threaten the officer's safety. They also specifically assert that Officer Cullen's home address is covered by the "official information" privilege. Because Officer Cullen already provided the information during her deposition, the defendants request that this Court issue an order striking the officer's home address from the record, redacting it from the deposition transcript, and instructing plaintiff's counsel not to reveal the information to his client. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c) (allowing court, "for good cause shown," to issue protective order "which justice requires to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense"). The legal standards relevant to the dispute are as follows.

  Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended in 2000, provides in pertinent part:
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. . . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The 2000 Amendments, while not intended to alter dramatically the scope of discovery, were intended to make it "narrower than it was, in some meaningful way." Surles, 2001 WL 1142231, at *1 n. 3 (internal quotations omitted). The Advisory Committee explained that the amendments were designed to "focus [discovery] on the actual claims and defenses involved in the action," and "[w]hen judicial intervention is invoked, the actual scope of discovery should be determined according to the reasonable needs of the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) Advisory Committee Notes to 2000 Amendments. The Advisory Committee noted that "information that could be used to impeach a likely witness, although not otherwise relevant to the claims or defenses, might be properly discoverable. . . . [T]he determination whether such information is discoverable because it is relevant to the claims or defenses depends on the circumstances of the pending action." Id. While Rule 26(b)(1) still provides for broad discovery, courts should not grant discovery requests based on pure speculation that amount to nothing more than a "fishing expedition" into actions or past wrongdoing not related to the alleged claims or defenses. See Tottenham v. Trans World Gaming Corp., No. 00 Civ. 7697, 2002 WL 1967023, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2002); Surles v. Air France, No. 00 Civ. 5004, 2001 WL 815522, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 19, 2001) (Maas, M.J.) (stating that even under unamended version of Rule 26(b)(1), courts "would routinely decline to authorize fishing expeditions"), aff'd, Surles, 2001 WL 1142231; Spina v. Our Lady of Mercy Med. Ctr., No. 97 Civ. 4661, 2001 WL 630481, at *2-*3 (S.D.N.Y. June 7, 2001) (citing text of Rule 26(b)(1) prior to 2000 Amendments).

  Even where information may be relevant, discovery should not be compelled if the information is privileged or if there is good cause for a protective order. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), 26(c). Because this case has been brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, among other federal civil rights provisions, the defendants' assertion of the "official information" privilege is governed by federal common law. See Unger v. Cohen, 125 F.R.D. 67, 69 (S.D.N.Y. 1989); King v. Conde, 121 F.R.D. 180, 187 (E.D.N.Y. 1988). While the official information privilege is rooted in state law, federal courts have recognized this qualified privilege as generally covering the disclosure of police material and personnel files, including officers' home addresses. See King, 121 F.R.D. at 187-90; see also Nat'l Cong. for Puerto Rican Rights v. City of New York, 194 F.R.D. 88, 95 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); Morrissey v. City of New York, 171 F.R.D. 85, 91-92 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). The privilege reflects "the state's general concern in protecting police personnel files and investigative reports from `fishing expeditions.'" Morrissey, 171 F.R.D. at 92; see also Unger, 125 F.R.D. at 69.

  State law privileges, however, are limited by the interest in enforcing federal rights through broad discovery. See Morrissey, 171 F.R.D. at 92; Unger, 125 F.R.D. at 69; King, 121 F.R.D. at 187. Because of the interest in broad discovery, the party opposing the discovery of relevant information, whether through a privilege or protective order, bears the burden of showing that based on the balance of interests the information should not be disclosed. See Nat'l Cong., 194 F.R.D. at 92 (discussing need to balance interests in motion for Rule 26(c) protective order sought on grounds of privilege); King, 121 F.R.D. at 188-90 (discussing competing interests for assertions of privilege and requests for protective orders); cf. In re Initial Pub. Offering Sec. Litig., 220 F.R.D. 30, 36 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (listing factors for Rule 26(c) motion).

  Specifically, under the procedure established by King for evaluating assertions of the official information privilege, the party resisting disclosure first must make a "substantial threshold showing" of a specific harm connected to the disclosure of specific information. King, 121 F.R.D. at 190. If such a showing is made, the court must then balance the interests for and against disclosure:
The factors disfavoring disclosure are the threat to the safety of police officers, the invasion of the privacy of police officers, the weakening of law enforcement programs or procedures, the chilling of police investigative candor, the chilling of citizen complainant candor, and state privacy law. The factors favoring disclosure are the relevance of the material to the plaintiff's case, the importance of the material to the plaintiff's case, the strength of the plaintiff's case, and the importance to the public interest in releasing the information.
Morrissey, 171 F.R.D. at 92 (citing King, 121 F.R.D. at 190-96).


  In this case, the plaintiff initially sought to compel the disclosure of Officer Cullen's home address for the purpose of investigating her ability to pay punitive damages. (See June 8, 2004 Tr. at 11.) The Magistrate Judge did not grant the discovery request on those grounds and instead surmised that the plaintiff might use the information to ask neighbors whether ...

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