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Grief v. Nassau County

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 30, 2017

NASSAU COUNTY; SHERIFF MICHAEL SPOSATO, CO ALBERTO BAZANTE, CO ANGELO MURO, CO JANET CARBONE, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.

          Jeffrey A. Rothman, Esq., Co-Counsel for the Plaintiff

          John W. Upton, Esq., Co-Counsel for the Plaintiff

          Nassau County Attorney's Office, Attorneys for the Defendants

          DECISION & ORDER

          ARTHUR D. SPATT, United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court in this § 1983 excessive force action are the Plaintiff's objections, lodged pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 72(a), to a pretrial order of United States Magistrate Judge Anne Y. Shields.

         For the reasons that follow, those objections are overruled.

         I. Background

         On December 18, 2015, the Plaintiff commenced this action against Nassau County, Sheriff Michael Sposato, and three individual correction officers employed at the Nassau County Correctional Center (“NCCC”), namely, Alberto Bazante, Angelo Muro, and Janet Carbone (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”). In general, the Plaintiff alleges that he sustained physical and emotional injuries as a result of mistreatment he suffered at the hands of the Individual Defendants while being held in custody at NCCC.

         On March 8, 2016, the Defendants filed an answer to the complaint, substantially denying the Plaintiff's allegations.

         A. The Competing Confidentiality Agreements

         At the outset of discovery, despite a good faith effort to reach mutually-agreeable terms, the parties were unable to agree on a stipulated confidentiality agreement to govern the handling and exchange of sensitive information in this case. In particular, the parties deadlocked on two discrete issues.

         First, the parties disagreed about whether confidential information disclosed during discovery could properly be used for purposes other than simply prosecuting or defending this action. The Plaintiff argued that any eventual confidentiality order should provide for a method by which the parties may seek Court approval to disclose confidential information obtained through this lawsuit. Although the Plaintiff did not speculate as to the reason such disclosure may become necessary, he predicted that the “materials exchanged in this litigation may have importance in other litigation, to the press, to legislative bodies, or otherwise.” The Defendants disagreed, contending that, except where both sides agree, confidential information should not be used for any non-litigation purpose, and that doing so would circumvent the intent and purpose of the confidentiality agreement.

         In this regard, the parties also disagreed about the purposes for which confidential information could properly be used after the termination of the case. Although the parties stipulated that an eventual confidentiality order would survive the termination of the litigation, the Plaintiff resisted any obligation to return or destroy confidential materials disclosed during discovery, and sought to reserve the right to seek the Court's permission to use such information after the case was resolved.

         Second, the parties disagreed about whether documents and information relating directly to the incidents forming the basis of the complaint could properly be designated as confidential. The Plaintiff deemed it “simply ridiculous” that the Defendants could potentially designate as confidential some information that relates to the incidents at the heart of this case. Again the Defendants disagreed, arguing that it would be prejudicial at this early stage of the litigation, when the amount and nature of the discoverable materials are unknown, to exclude from the scope of the confidentiality agreement any and all documents and information potentially related to the underlying events.

         Both sides submitted competing versions of the confidentiality agreement, and cross-moved for Judge Shields to So-Order their respective draft.

         B. The Challenged Order

         By Order dated August 26, 2016, Judge Shields issued a written Order (the “Challenged Order”), in which she adopted the relevant portions of the Defendants' version of the confidentiality agreement.

         In particular, with respect to the Plaintiff's efforts to carve out ways to use confidential information for non-litigation purposes, Judge Shields found his position to be unreasonable. The court concluded that, when producing sensitive government documents, the Defendants could not justifiably rely on a confidentiality order that would perpetually be subject to further modification upon the Plaintiff's request.

         For substantially the same reasons, Judge Shields also overruled the Plaintiff's opposition to returning and/or destroying confidential information at the conclusion of the case.

         Further, Judge Shields overruled the Plaintiff's effort to deny confidentiality to any and all materials relating directly to the incidents alleged in the complaint. In this regard, the court reasoned that, to approve the “broad and unspecified blanket provision” proposed by the Plaintiff would be to undermine completely the purpose of the confidentiality agreement by inhibiting the free flow of discoverable information.

         On September 9, 2016, the Plaintiff filed a motion, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 6.3, requesting that Judge Shields reconsider the conclusions reached in the Challenged Order.

         On October 13, 2016, Judge Shields issued a second written Order, in which she found that the Plaintiff had failed to set forth a sufficient basis for reversing the contested portions of the Challenged Order, and denied the motion for reconsideration in all respects.

         On October 27, 2016, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, the Plaintiff filed written objections in this Court, seeking to vacate the Challenged Order and So-Order the ...

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