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Hallasey v. Avery

January 29, 2008

MATTHEW D. HALLASEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEORGE AVERY, JR., COUNTY OF ERIE, TIMOTHY B. HOWARD, ERIE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, JOHN DOE(S) DEPUTY SHERIFF(S) AND/OR OTHER EMPLOYEE(S) OF ERIE COUNTY AND/OR ERIE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, THE IDENTITY AND NUMBER OF WHOM IS PRESENTLY UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leslie G. Foschio United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION and ORDER

In this action seeking compensatory and punitive damages based on Defendants' alleged violations of Plaintiff's civil rights while Plaintiff was in Defendant Avery's custody on January 9 and 10, 2007, Plaintiff moved, on December 9, 2008, to compel (Doc. No. 14) the following pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a): (1) disclosure of items requested in Plaintiff's First Request to Produce Documents and Things, (2) answers to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories, and (3) production of Defendant Avery's personnel records. In their opposition, filed January 9, 2009, Defendants Erie County Sheriff's Department and Howard assert as grounds for refusing to produce Defendant Avery's personnel file that the personnel file is subject to protection under N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50-a, and that Plaintiff's request lacked relevancy to his claims.

At oral argument, conducted January 21, 2009, Plaintiff informed the court that Defendants' answers to Plaintiff's interrogatory requests have been received, rendering Plaintiff's motion to compel interrogatory answers moot. Pursuant to Defendants' answers to Plaintiff's interrogatories, Plaintiff orally requested the production of additional documents: (1) Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Department and Defendant Howard's Personnel Standards Division ("PSD") case files 00-28, 05-134, 05-139 and 07-03, and (2) Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Department and Defendant Howard's confidential case report detailing the investigation of the facts underlying Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff renewed his request for the production of Defendant Avery's personnel records kept by Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Department and Defendant Howard. Defendants objected to Plaintiff's document requests for the investigative files on the basis of lack of relevancy. With the joint agreement of the parties, the court granted in camera review of these documents. See Martin v. Lamb, 122 F.R.D. 143, 147 (W.D.N.Y. 1988) (directing in camera review of documents withheld pursuant to N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 50-a); King v. Conde, 121 F.R.D. 180, 190 (E.D.N.Y. 1988) (approving in camera review of documents claimed to be subject to N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 50-a).

Interrogatory Answers

Prior to oral argument, Defendants provided Plaintiff with the identity of all requested documents. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion to compel Defendants answers to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories is DISMISSED as moot.

Plaintiff's Document Requests

Plaintiff requests production of Defendant Avery's personnel file. Based on its in camera review of the file, the court finds three personnel documents within the file should be produced as relevant to Plaintiff's claims.

(1) Letter of Reprimand

Dated August 12, 2004, this letter reprimanded Defendant Avery for improper handcuffing and retention of a prisoner. After review the court finds this document is relevant to Plaintiff's claims, and balancing Defendant's privacy interests against Plaintiff's need for the requested information, finds no basis for refusing production pursuant to N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50-a. See King, 121 F.R.D. at 187 (court required to balance "interests favoring and opposing confidentiality" as to police personnel records); Martin, 122 F.R.D. at 148 (same). Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED as it relates to this document.

(2) Letter of Counsel

Following a complaint from a citizen asserting harassment, the chief of police services for the Erie County Sheriff's Department issued a letter of counsel to Avery, informing Avery that he had violated Erie County Sheriff's Department Policies and Procedures, General Order #89-21, III, A, Subdivision 2, "Unbecoming Conduct," in connection with the complaint, and advised Avery to comply with all policies and procedures of the Erie County Sheriff's Department. Based on its review, the court finds this letter of counsel relevant to Plaintiff's claims. Further, the court's review reveals no ground for refusing production pursuant to N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50-a. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED as to this document.

(3) Letter of Suspension

On March 28, 2007, the Undersheriff of the Erie County Sheriff's Department issued this letter of suspension to Defendant Avery placing him on suspension without pay status as a result of criminal charges filed against him in connection with Plaintiff's claims. Based on its review of this document, the court finds the letter of suspension relevant to Plaintiff's claims. Further, the court's review reveals no reason to withhold production based on N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50-a. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED regarding this document.

As for all other documents in Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Department and Defendant Howard's personnel file for Defendant Avery, the court finds such to be irrelevant to Plaintiff's claims or entitled to protection under N.Y. Civ. Rights Law ...


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