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Velez v. City of New York

June 2, 2010

TOWANDA VELEZ, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF ANTHONY VELEZ, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Go, United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Towanda Velez ("plaintiff"), on behalf of the decedent Anthony Velez (the "decedent" or "Velez"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants the City of New York (the "City") and New York City Police Department ("NYPD") officers Rudolph Hall, Michael Ruggiero and other unnamed officers alleging deprivations of the decedent's civil rights. Plaintiff moves to compel discovery of information relating to the NYPD's policies and practices that she sought in her Second Demand for Discovery and Inspection. See ct. doc. 16. Opposing on grounds of relevance and privilege, the City cross-moves for a protective order to prevent discovery of the NYPD's file concerning its open investigation into the homicide of the decedent and related documents. See ct. doc. 14. The City has submitted, at the Court's request, some of the documents it seeks to withhold from plaintiff for in camera review.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that the decedent was a confidential informant ("CI") of the NYPD who provided information to defendant Hall regarding drugs and/or weapons located at 24 Stone Avenue, Apartment 5C in Brooklyn, New York (the "apartment"). When Officer Hall and other NYPD officers went to that address, they encountered the decedent exiting the apartment. After detaining him while they obtained consent and searched the apartment, they permitted the decedent to leave. Plaintiff further alleges that during the search of the apartment, Officer Ruggiero told the occupants of the apartment that the decedent was the source of the information that prompted the search. Approximately one and one half hours later, the decedent was shot and killed, which plaintiff alleges was in retaliation for providing the tip.

The NYPD conducted an investigation into the decedent's homicide and an internal investigation into whether the homicide was related to the NYPD's treatment of the decedent as an informant. Plaintiff alleges that Velez's death was a result of the NYPD's failure to provide Officers Hall and Ruggiero with proper training and instruction on the treatment of information obtained from a CI and protecting the safety of a CI.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's Motion to Compel

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits parties to "obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense" and, upon a showing of "good cause," a "court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Information is relevant and discoverable so long as the discovery "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. When broader discovery is sought, the Court should determine the scope "according to the reasonable needs of the action, ... depending on the circumstances of the case, the nature of the claims and defenses, and the scope of the discovery requested." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) Advisory Committee Notes to 2000 Amendments. Objections to a request on the basis of relevance or overbreadth are not a basis to preclude discovery altogether. See Martinez v. Robinson, No. 99 CIV. 11911, 2002 WL 424680, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2002)

Document Demand Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 13

Since the City has agreed to produce documents responsive to Demand Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 13, plaintiff's motion to compel is moot with respect to those demands. See Def.'s Mem. in Opp. at 3 (ct. doc. 19).

Document Demand Nos. 5 and 6

Plaintiff seeks documents concerning the training and instruction provided to NYPD officers and specifically, the training given to defendants Hall and Ruggiero, for handling confidential informants, including procedures and practices for protecting the confidentiality and safety of the informants and for conducting searches, arrests and "similar police action" when confidential informants are present. See Declaration of Michael G. O'Neill dated December 8, 2006 ("12/8/06 O'Neill Decl."), Exh. B. at 4 (ct. doc. 16-2). The City argues that the request is overbroad and should be limited to those procedures and policies regarding the safety and confidentiality of confidential informants that were in effect at the time of the incident and "to the factual scenario presented here." I agree that the relevant documents should be limited in time to those that were in effect at the time of the incident. However, the documents produced should include procedures and policies regarding the safety and confidentiality of confidential informants generally, including police operations conducted in the presence of informants. Moreover, the City should also produce documents concerning the training and instruction actually provided to defendants Hall and Ruggiero as requested in Demand Number 6.

Document Demand Nos. 7-11

Plaintiff seeks documents concerning the City's experience with violence against confidential informants whose identities were compromised. 12/8/06 O'Neill Decl., Exh. B at 4-5. The City argues that these requests are overbroad because they refer to "confidential informants whose identities have been compromised" rather than to cases where NYPD officers affirmatively disclosed an informant's identity, as alleged here. The City takes too restrictive a view of plaintiff's claims which encompass the failure of the defendant officers to take the measures necessary to protect Velez's identity and the City's failure to provide proper training and instruction in acting on information provided by confidential informants or recognizing when the confidentiality of informants has ...


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