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Castro v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 30, 2014

THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.


HENRY PITMAN, District Judge.

I write to resolve the discovery disputes addressed by the parties in their letters dated April 8, 11, 14 and 24, 2014.[1]

I. Plaintiff's Allegations

This is a Section 1983 action in which plaintiff alleges that he sustained injuries as a result of excessive force used against him in the course of his arrest by members of the New York City Police Department on October 29, 2009. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that during the early morning hours of October 29, 2009, plaintiff, his girlfriend and his mother were all asleep in plaintiff's apartment in upper Manhattan. At approximately 6:00 a.m., plaintiff was awakened by loud banging, presumably by the individual defendants, on the apartment's door. Although it is unclear whether plaintiff let the individual defendants into the apartment or the individual defendants entered the apartment without plaintiff's permission, plaintiff alleges that the police officers entered the apartment, drew their guns and pointed them at plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that although he prostrated himself on the floor as a sign of submission, the police allegedly stepped on plaintiff's back and limbs and kicked plaintiff in the head, ribs, stomach, chest, legs and arms. Plaintiff alleges that despite the fact that he did not resist the police and that he verbally advised the police he was not resisting, the beating lasted approximately one to two minutes. Plaintiff goes on to claim that when he asked the defendants to stop their assault, one of them hit him in the head with a "ballistic shield, " damaging plaintiff's right eye and opening a wound on plaintiff's head. Plaintiff states that he was arrested after the beating and taken to a hospital where his head wound was closed with nine stitches. Plaintiff claims that as a result of the assault, he now experiences daily headaches that require ongoing treatment and impair his ability to perform his daily activities. Plaintiff further alleges that he now suffers from seizures and convulsions and must now take antiseizure medicine to control those conditions.

The operative pleading - plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint - is facially ambiguous as to whether it seeks damages for false arrest and excessive force or damages for excessive force only. For example, the Second Amended Complaint contains details such as the length of time plaintiff was in custody, the outcome of the charges against him and seeks damages for the alleged violation of plaintiff's right to be free "from unreasonable seizure of his person, including the excessive use of force" (Second Amended Complaint, dated May 31, 2012 (Docket Item 19), ΒΆ 30). These allegations suggest a false arrest claim.

However, in resisting certain of the discovery requests currently in issue, plaintiff unequivocally states that he is seeking damages for the alleged use of excessive force only and that he is asserting no claim for false arrest. Specifically, plaintiff's counsel states:

The defendants have a list of Mr. Castro's arrests and a list of the dispositions of those arrests. They have had the opportunity to question him on those arrests at his deposition. If Mr. Castro was alleging false arrest, the defendants would no doubt be correct. However, Mr. Castro is advancing an excessive force cause of action and he is seeking to recover no damages from his detention.

(Letter from David B. Rankin, Esq., to the Undesigned, dated April 14, 2014, at 1). In light of this clarification, there is no false arrest claim in the case.

III. Analysis

A. Applicable Principles

Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits discovery "regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). "Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401. Rule 26 provides that "[r]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, "discovery... has ultimate and necessary boundaries" and "discovery of matter not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence is not within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1)." Oppenheimer Fund Inc. v. Sanders , 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (internal quotation marks omitted). Reasonably calculated means, "any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to [a party's claim or defense.]" Morse/Diesel, Inc. v. Fid. & Deposit Co. , 122 F.R.D. 447, 449 (S.D.N.Y. 1988) (Leisure, D.J.), citing Mallinckrodt Chem. Works v. Goldman, Sachs & Co. , 58 F.R.D. 348, 353 (S.D.N.Y. 1973). If good cause is shown, a court may order discovery of any material that is relevant to the subject matter of the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

Because impeachment evidence does not bear directly on the parties' claims or defenses, good cause must be shown before discovery of such evidence will be permitted.

Courts have required parties to establish good cause where discovery is sought solely to unearth potential impeachment material, see, e.g., CSI Investment Partners II, L.P. v. Cendant Corp., No. 00 Civ. 1422 (DAB)(DFE), 2006 WL 1524591, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 31, 2006), and have not found such cause where the request is speculative. See, e.g., Surles v. Air France, No. 00 Civ. 5004 (RMB)(FM), 2001 WL 815522, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 19, 2001) (no good cause for discovery where request is based on "nothing more than speculative hope that useful impeachment material will be unearthed"). See also Sheppard v. Beerman, No. 91 Civ. 1349 (ILG), 1999 WL 551242, at * 1 (E.D.N.Y. June 25, 1999) (evidence that may impeach "does not, without more, mean that such evidence is discoverable"); Tartaglia v. City of New York, No. 98 Civ. 5584 (JGK)(RLE), 1999 WL 151104, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 1999) ("Evidence which may be useful for impeachment purposes is not relevant to the subject matter of the litigation, but involves collateral issues of credibility.").

Dzanis v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., 10 Civ. 3384 (BSJ)(JLC), 2011 WL 5979650 at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2011) (Cott, M.J.); accord Nunez v. City of New York, 11 Civ. 5845 (LTS)(JCF), 2013 WL ...

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