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Wisniewski v. Claflin

April 16, 2007

JANUSC WISNIEWSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POLICE OFFICER JOHN CLAFLIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, SERGEANT NELSON A. VARGAS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER SCHAEFER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER TROY METZLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER JAY DIAMOND, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER DANNY ROMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER JOE KEARNEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER GRABOSKI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, POLICE OFFICER MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, DETECTIVE MCGUIRE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, SERGEANT HUTCH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON POLICE OFFICER, JOSHUA STEWART, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON CODE ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT OFFICER, JOHN DOE 1, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EAST HAMPTON CODE ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT OFFICER, RICHARD ROES, SUPERVISORY OFFICERS OF THE EAST HAMPTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE NUMBER AND IDENTITY OF WHOM IS PRESENTLY UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: E. Thomas Boyle United StatesMagistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

By motion to compel, Plaintiff seeks certain discipline records relating to two police officers named as Defendants in this action. Production is sought as to any complaints concerning "arrest, investigation of landlord tenant disputes, burglary investigation, referral to the code enforcement unit, custody care of a prisoner, medical attention for a prisoner, [and] processing of a civilian complaint." Defendants assert that these documents are both privileged under New York law and irrelevant in that the complaints pertain to events that occurred subsequent to the events at issue in this action. Defendants submitted the two complaints at issue to the court for an in camera inspection.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Janus Wisniewski ("Plaintiff"), claims that his landlord, Leanna Erdmann ("Erdmann"), and her boyfriend, Michael Helm ("Helm"), attempted to wrongfully evict Plaintiff from his home. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff's girlfriend, Margaret Stankiewicz ("Stankiewicz"), filed a police report for damage to her car that was allegedly caused by Erdmann. (Id. ¶ 23.) After Stankiewicz filed the police report, Erdmann and Helm allegedly commenced a course of illegal actions in an attempt to remove Plaintiff and Stankiewicz from their home. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Plaintiff alleges that Helm had a personal relationship with Defendant police officer Claflin ("Claflin") and that Helm's father was friends with Defendant police officer Schaefer ("Schaefer") (the ten named police officers are hereinafter collectively referred to as "Defendant police officers.") (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff contends that because of these friendships, the Defendant police officers were motivated to conspire to protect and cover up Erdmann's and Helm's illegal conduct. (Id. ¶ 27.) From September 9, 2004 until October 24, 2004, Plaintiff complained to the police several times regarding Helm's and Erdmann's alleged illegal activity. The Defendant police officers allegedly did not respond to the majority of Plaintiff's complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 27, 29, 31-35.) Plaintiff thereafter complained to Defendant Sergeant Hutch regarding the lack of response by the other Defendant police officers. (Id. ¶ 36.)

As alleged in Plaintiff's complaint, on October 24, 2004, Plaintiff called 911 to report that Helm had attacked him. (Id. ¶ 38.) Defendant Police Officers Claflin, Vargas, Metzler, Diamond, Roman and Kearney responded to the call. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff explained how Helm attacked him and how he was allegedly injured by Helm's attacks. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 41.) Plaintiff requested medical attention, but he received none. (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff requested to go home but was told he could not, and instead was arrested and brought to the East Hampton Police Department ("EPHD"). (Id. ¶¶ 43, 46.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Claflin informed him that he was being arrested in retaliation for his complaints to Sergeant Hutch. (Id. ¶ 45.)

At the EPHD, Plaintiff again requested medical attention, but again, received none. (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff was subsequently taken to the hospital where his injuries were treated. (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff does not state in his complaint whether the police took him to the hospital or whether he drove himself to the hospital. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant police officers then filed false and misleading reports with the EPHD and the "City Court." (Id. ¶ 51.)

On October 24, 2005, Plaintiff commenced this Section 1983 action. On February 23, 2006, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which Defendants answered. On October 4, 2006, Defendants moved for a judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff opposed the Defendants' motion and cross-moved to amend his complaint a second time. On March 7, 2007, Judge Seybert issued a Memorandum & Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for a judgment on the pleadings. That order dismissed the action as to defendants Stewart, John Doe 1, Graboski, Miller, McGuire, Hutch and Richard Roes. The order also dismissed the following claims: "any section 1983 claims to the extent they are based on a negligence theory, those claims under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, and the Due Process claim for lack of medical treatment." (Mem. & Order, Seybert, J., dated Mar. 7, 2007, at 19.) Judge Seybert's order also granted Plaintiff's motion to amend his pleadings a second time. (Id.)

Plaintiff thereafter sought discovery of personnel records concerning the Defendant police officers' disciplinary records. Defendants have sua sponte submitted two complaints to the court for an in camera inspection, asserting that they are privileged and should not be disclosed. Plaintiff has moved to compel the production of these documents.

DISCUSSION

I. Privilege Under New York State Civil rights Law

Section 50-a Questions of privilege in federal civil rights cases are governed by federal law. See FED. R. EVID. 501; von Bulow v. von Bulow, 811 F.2d 136 (2d Cir. 1987); King v. Conde, 121 F.R.D. 180 (E.D.N.Y. 1988); Sparks v. Seltzer, No. 05-CV-1061, 2006 WL 2358157, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2006). Federal law is also applied to state law claims if such claims arise in federal question cases. von Bulow, 811 F.2d at 141 (citing legislative history of Rule 501 from Senate Report No. 1277).

In the context of a civil rights action asserted against police officers, no federal rule prohibits discovery of internal police documents. King, 121 F.R.D. at 187. Therefore, the interests favoring and opposing confidentiality must be balanced unless defendants can demonstrate a "substantial threshold showing" of specific harm that may accrue from the disclosure of such documents. Id.

In King v. Conde, 121 F.R.D. 180 (E.D.N.Y. 1988), the court resolved two cases, both pertaining to the issue of the discoverability of discipline records and complaints against police officers. One case involved a plaintiff who was arrested by two Suffolk County police officers and subsequently sued the County and the officers for excessive force and malicious prosecution. King, 121 F.R.D. at 186. The second case involved two plaintiffs who had an altercation with Suffolk County police officers and sued the County and the officers, claiming a cover-up by the officers of their own improper conduct and malicious prosecution. Id. In both cases, plaintiffs made discovery demands ...


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