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Melendez v. Falls

March 3, 2010

MICHAEL MELENDEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN S. FALLS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marian W. Payson United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION & ORDER

Plaintiff Michael Melendez ("Melendez") filed this action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various employees of the Attica Correctional Facility alleging that they subjected him to excessive force on April 15, 2004, and retaliated against him for exercising his legal rights by destroying his personal property while he was confined to the special housing unit. (Docket # 53). Currently pending before this Court are two motions. The first motion, filed by defendants, seeks an order compelling Melendez to authorize the release of his medical records for use in this litigation. (Docket # 61). In the second motion, plaintiff seeks to compel discovery from defendants. (Docket # 66). For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion to compel is granted and plaintiff's motion to compel is denied.

I. Defendants' Motion to Compel

This action was commenced on April 14, 2006. (Docket # 1). As discussed above, plaintiff seeks damages in connection with an incident of alleged excessive force on April 15, 2004. (Docket # 53). On May 2, 2007, and then again on December 24, 2007, counsel for defendants requested that Melendez execute a general, unlimited authorization of release for medical records. (Docket # 61 at ¶¶ 3-4, Exs. A, B). Receiving no response, counsel again wrote to Melendez on March 25, 2009 concerning the release. ( Id . at ¶ 5, Ex. C). On March 27, 2009, Melendez returned a signed authorization that limited the release of his medical records to those related to injuries he sustained on April 15, 2004. ( Id . at ¶ 6, Ex. D). The release was accompanied by a letter from Melendez stating that he refused to "relin[q]uish [his] Federal and State Confidentiality rights." (Docket # 61 at Ex. D). On April 3, 2009, counsel rejected Melendez's release as inadequate and sent another proposed release, which limited the time period covered in the release from January 1, 2003 to the present. ( Id . at ¶ 7, Ex. E). Defendants then filed the instant motion to compel on April 16, 2009. (Docket # 61).

According to Melendez, during a April 27, 2009 deposition, he consented to sign a release for the time period requested by defendants, provided that defendants agreed to disclose his medical records only to defense counsel and counsel's agents. (Docket # 66 at 14, ¶ 13). Defense counsel then sent a revised form on April 28, 2009 providing for the release of Melendez's medical records to "State of New York, by the Attorney General, any Assistant Attorney General, Investigator, or any representative or an agent thereof, for the purposes of this litigation." (Docket # 66 at 19-21). Thereafter, Melendez wrote to defense counsel seeking clarification regarding the release of his records to the State of New York. ( Id . at 22). According to Melendez, defendants never responded to his inquiry. ( Id . at 14, ¶ 16).

In a memorandum of law submitted in connection with the instant motions, Melendez appears to have returned to the argument that medical records not directly related to the April 15, 2004 assault are irrelevant to his claims and further requests that the Court enter an order either sealing the records or directing defendants to maintain their confidentiality. ( Id . at 16-17, ¶¶ 21, 24).

In his Complaint, Melendez alleges that the April 15, 2004 incident caused him physical injuries that required surgery and resulted in pain lasting for a year. (Docket # 53 at ¶ 21). Thus, Melendez's medical records are clearly relevant to his claim seeking compensatory damages in connection with alleged physical injuries. Although defendants are not entitled to unlimited access to his private medical records, they do have the right to inspect records that reveal medical conditions or injuries that Melendez attributes to the alleged assault or that could have contributed to or aggravated the injuries he claims resulted from that incident. The record is unclear as to whether Melendez expects to testify that his injuries are permanent or persisted after the approximate one-year period alleged in the Complaint. If Melendez is willing to stipulate that his damages claim for physical or emotional injuries related to the assault is limited to one year following the incident (as suggested by his Complaint), the release should be limited to the period January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2005 -- a period that represents a reasonable period before and after the alleged injuries. Otherwise, he shall authorize the release of his records from January 1, 2003 to the present. Accordingly, by no later than March 19, 2010 , Melendez shall provide to defense counsel a signed authorization for the release of medical records in accordance with these directions.

Further, upon review of defendants' April 28, 2009 proposed release, I find that the authorization appropriately protects Melendez's privacy concerns by limiting the categories of persons permitted to view his medical records and the scope of their use.*fn1 Nevertheless, Melendez has expressed a concern that his medical records will be made part of the public record as part of this litigation. (Docket # 66 at 17, ¶ 23). Accordingly, in the event that defendants intend to submit Melendez's medical records to this Court ( e.g. , as part of the record on a motion or at trial), defendants are hereby directed to provide Melendez at least fourteen days' advance notice in order to permit Melendez adequate time to file a motion to seal or for a protective order.

I turn next to Melendez's motion to compel defendants' response to certain interrogatories and document requests.

II. Melendez's Motion to Compel

Defendants received Melendez's First Set of Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents on May 22, 2007.*fn2 (Docket # 71 at ¶ 9). On June 1, 2007, counsel for defendants notified Melendez that his discovery requests were premature because the Court had not yet issued a scheduling order. ( Id . at ¶ 10). On October 9, 2007, the Court held a Rule 16 conference with the parties and issued a scheduling order. (Docket ## 20, 21). Thereafter, on November 7, 2007, Melendez requested that counsel respond to the previously-served discovery requests. (Docket # 71 at ¶ 11). On December 11, 2007, counsel sent a letter to Melendez notifying him that defendants' responses would be filed by January 10, 2008. ( Id . at ¶ 12). Counsel reiterated this date twice more in response to Melendez's inquiries. ( Id . at ¶¶ 13-15). One of those occasions occurred during plaintiff's deposition, at which time plaintiff responded "okay" when counsel explained that he planned to respond by January 10, 2008. ( Id. at Ex. F). On January 10, 2008, defendants Barowski, Conway, Hartman, James and Markowski served responses to Melendez's interrogatories, and all defendants responded to the document requests. (Docket ## 33-39). Defendants Falls, Sticht and Countermine filed their answers to the interrogatories a few days later on January 16, 2008. (Docket ## 40-42). All defendants objected to certain interrogatories and document requests.

On February 18, 2008, Melendez served a second set of interrogatories and document requests.*fn3 (Docket # 71 at ¶ 22, Ex. J). According to Melendez, defendants refused to respond to the requests on the grounds that they were served too late to afford defendants adequate time to respond before the Court's then-ordered discovery deadline of February 29, 2008. (Docket # 66 at 3, ¶ 12). The Court subsequently granted Melendez's motion to extend the discovery deadline and ordered defendants to respond to his second set of interrogatories and document requests by March 27, 2009. (Docket # 56). Defendants did so, objecting to several of Melendez's requests. (Docket # 60).

Melendez now moves this Court for an order compelling defendants to respond to Interrogatories 4 and 8 and Document Requests 1 and 3 of his first set of discovery requests and ...


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