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Hillary v. Village of Potsdam

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 3, 2015

ORAL HILLARY, Plaintiff,
VILLAGE OF POTSDAM et al., Defendants.

Office of Mani C. Tafari, MANI C. TAFARI, ESQ., Locust Valley, NY, for the Plaintiff.

Burke, Scolamiero Law Firm, THOMAS J. MORTATI, ESQ., Albany, NY, for the Defendants.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Oral Hillary commenced this action against defendants Edward Tischler, Mark Murray, Charlie Daniels, Michael Ames, and unnamed John Does, all individually and in their official capacities, and the Village of Potsdam, alleging violations of the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and New York state law for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, defamation, and negligent hiring. (Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 23.) Pending before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by both Hillary, (Dkt. No. 59), and defendants, (Dkt. No. 60), as well as a motion by Hillary to unseal the summary judgment motions, which were originally filed with this court under seal, (Dkt. No. 73). For the reasons that follow, Hillary's motion for partial summary judgment[1] is denied, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Hillary's motion to unseal is denied.

II. Background[2]

This lawsuit arises out of the Village of Potsdam Police Department's investigation into the October 24, 2011 death of Garrett Phillips, which, following an autopsy, was ruled a homicide. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶¶ 1-3, Dkt. No. 60, Attach. 45.) Phillips was initially found unresponsive in his home on October 24 at approximately 5:30 P.M. ( Id. ¶ 1.) Hillary, who at the time was the head men's soccer coach at Clarkson University, (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 59, Attach. 2), had been in a relationship with Phillips' mother, Tandy Cyrus, at some point in the year immediately preceding Phillips' death. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 5-7.)

Two days later, on the morning of October 26, Murray, a lieutenant with the Potsdam police, went to Hillary's home and asked him to come to the police station. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 20; Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 3, 20.) At Murray's request, Hillary drove himself to the police station on October 26, and, upon arriving, at approximately 8:00 A.M., he was taken to Murray's office. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 21; Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 21-22.) At some point after arriving, Hillary indicated to Tischler, the chief of police, that he would have to leave to go to work, but Hillary was told that he was not free to leave the station. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 23; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 23.) At the time, defendants had obtained neither an arrest warrant nor a search warrant for Hillary, (Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 25-26), although during the time Hillary was held at the Potsdam Police Department, Murray applied for and obtained a search warrant authorizing a search of Hillary's person, (Defs.' SMF ¶ 27; Dkt. No. 60, Attach. 32).

At some point over the course of the day, while Hillary was still at the police station, defendants took possession of Hillary's mobile telephone and car. (Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 27, 29.) Although defendants ultimately obtained search warrants for Hillary's telephone and vehicle, (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 30, 32; Dkt. No. 60, Attachs. 34, 35), at the time these items were taken, defendants did not yet have search warrants for them. (Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 28, 30.) Ultimately, Hillary was permitted to leave the police station some time in the evening of October 26. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 29.)

The second incident that gives rise to Hillary's claims here occurred the next month, in November 2011. On November 28, the Potsdam police obtained a search warrant authorizing a search of Hillary's residence. ( Id. ¶ 34; Dkt. No. 60, Attach. 36.) On November 30, Murray and Daniels went to Hillary's residence in order to execute that search warrant. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 40; Defs.' SMF ¶ 39.) At the time, Hillary was at home with his two-year-old son, around whose torso Daniels "placed his hands... in order to remove the child from [Hillary]'s grasp." (Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 41-42.)

At the time the pending summary judgment motions were filed, no criminal charges had yet been brought against Hillary in conjunction with Phillips' death, and the investigation into the death remained ongoing. ( Id. ¶ 43; Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 44-45.) Hillary subsequently commenced this suit, alleging several claims arising from his detention and the seizure of his personal effects in October 2011, and the subsequent incident at his home in November 2011. ( See generally Am. Compl.) Hillary has since been indicted by a grand jury in connection with the murder of Phillips, and the criminal charges against him remain pending. (Dkt. No. 82.)

III. Standards of Review

A. Motion to Unseal

"[T]he decision whether or not to grant access [to sealed documents] is one best left to the sound discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the particular case." United States v. Longueuil, 567 F.Appx. 13, 15 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In evaluating a claim of access to sealed documents, a court considers: "(1) whether the documents to which access is sought constitute judicial documents' giving rise to a presumption of access; (2) if so, the weight accorded the presumption; (3) the existence of any countervailing factors militating against public access; and (4) whether the presumption of access outweighs the countervailing factors." In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, No. 08-M-208, 2008 WL 5667021, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. July 14, 2008) (quoting Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 119-26 (2d Cir. 2006)). It is the burden of the party seeking to overcome the presumption of access to demonstrate the need to keep the materials under seal. See DiRussa v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 121 F.3d 818, 826 (2d Cir. 1997).

B. Summary Judgment

The standard of review pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Wagner v. Swarts, 827 F.Supp.2d 85, 92 (N.D.N.Y. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Wagner v. Sprague, 489 F.Appx. 500 (2d Cir. 2012).

IV. Discussion

A. Motion to Unseal

The court begins this discussion with a brief procedural history of the sealing of the summary judgment motions in this case. As discussed above, this case arises out of a criminal homicide investigation conducted by members of the Potsdam Police Department. ( See generally Am. Compl.) That investigation remains ongoing. (Dkt. No. 74 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 74, Attach. 2 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 80 at 2.) Early in the litigation, the parties entered into a Confidentiality Stipulation and Order to facilitate discovery while also protecting "privileged information in the defendants' possession relative to a criminal investigation." (Dkt. No. 12 at 1.) Pursuant to the stipulation, defendants were given the right to designate as "Confidential'... any information, document or thing" exchanged between the parties in discovery which involves the underlying homicide investigation, "such that release of such information poses a threat to the integrity of or compromise of such investigation or which revelation might compromise law enforcement techniques or methods." ( Id . ¶ 1(a).)

On May 21, 2013, Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles approved the parties' stipulation and entered a corresponding protective order. (Dkt. No. 13.) On March 31, 2014, both parties filed their motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 59, 60.) Each party requested that its motion, along with accompanying papers and exhibits, be filed under seal due to the confidential nature of the information contained therein, (Dkt. Nos. 55, 58), and these requests were granted by the court, (Dkt. Nos. 56, 57). Hillary now seeks to unseal the motions. (Dkt. No. 73.)

In support of his motion to unseal, Hillary argues that, because he has since been formally charged with the underlying homicide, "there is no longer a sufficient reason to prevent the media and the public from accessing the information, " and, further, that defendants have disclosed confidential information to the public, thus "undermining their basis for the sealing." (Dkt. No. 73, Attach. 1 at 1-6.) In opposing the motion to unseal, defendants argue that the sealed documents here fall within several exceptions to the public's right of access, including concerns of law enforcement efforts, judicial efficiency, and privacy interests. (Dkt. No. 74, Attach. 3 at 1-4.) Further, they assert that the investigation into the homicide remains ongoing, and that they have not disclosed confidential information ...

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