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COLLINS v. LIPPMAN

June 8, 2005.

JABBAR COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN LIPPMAN, individually, and as Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Office of Court Administration; JAMES F. IMPERATRICE, individually, and as Chief Clerk of the Criminal Term of the Supreme Court, Kings County; and JOHN DOES 1-3, individually, and as Justices of the Supreme Court, Kings County, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERIC BLOCK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Jabbar Collins ("Collins"), proceeding pro se, brings this § 1983 action and alleges that the defendants have violated his rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying him access to docket sheets and other court records. The defendants move to dismiss the complaint. For the following reasons, the defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part. I. BACKGROUND

  Collins is a prisoner at Green Haven Correctional Facility. Defendant Jonathan P. Lippman ("Lippman") is the Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Office of Court Administration. Defendant James Imperatrice ("Imperatrice") is the Clerk of the Criminal Term of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Kings County. Defendants John Does 1-3 ("Does 1-3") are unidentified justices of the same court.

  Collins alleges that, on July 13, 2004, he requested that Imperatrice provide him with copies of the docket sheet and certain documents filed in People v. Adrian Diaz, a criminal case pending before the State court. Collins is not a party to Diaz and his interest in the case is unclear.

  Many of the documents that Collins requested were not listed on the docket sheet or contained in the court file. Collins alleges that those documents were filed under seal and entered on a separate docket sheet that was also filed under seal. He further alleges that Imperatrice sealed the documents and docket sheet "by administrative fiat," Compl. ¶ 62, and not pursuant to statutory authority or court order. In the alternative, Collins alleges that Does 1-3 ordered the documents and docket sheet sealed, but did so without adequate justification or prior notice.

  Collins alleges that, on July 19, 2004, he wrote to Lippman to complain about the allegedly improper sealings. In the letter, he asked Lippman "to direct Imperatrice to disclose the sealed records." Compl. ¶ 77.

  Collins alleges that the defendants' actions violated his federal constitutional rights. He seeks a declaratory judgment that all the documents he requested are "open for public inspection," Compl. at 20, and an injunction requiring Imperatrice and Lippman to provide him with copies of the documents. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Imperatrice and Lippman.

  The defendants contend that the reason Collins has not received copies of all the documents he requested is that the allegedly sealed documents and docket sheet simply do not exist. In support of this contention, they have submitted an affidavit from Imperatrice attesting that "[t]he Supreme Court has willingly provided all of the documents maintained by the Court in Diaz," Imperatrice Aff. ¶ 20.*fn1

  II. DISCUSSION

  Under the First Amendment, the public generally enjoys a right of access "to both judicial proceedings and judicial documents." See United States v. Gotti, 322 F.Supp. 2d 230, 239 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (citing In re New York Times, 828 F.2d 110 (2d Cir. 1987)). As the Second Circuit recently held, that right includes the right to inspect docket sheets. See Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 96 (2d Cir. 2004). The right is not absolute, however, and may be overcome "upon demonstration that suppression `is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.'" Id. (quoting Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501 (1984)).

  While conceding the existence of a First Amendment right of access, the defendants argue that the complaint must nevertheless be dismissed. In essence, they argue (1) that the Court lacks jurisdiction over Collins' claims, (2) that the defendants are immune from suit, and (3) that the complaint fails to state a claim.

  A. Jurisdictional Issues

  The defendants' argument that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the case relies on three legal theories: (1) mootness, (2) the Eleventh ...


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