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Burks v. Stickney

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 19, 2017

CHAD STICKNEY, et al., Defendants.


          FOR DEFENDANTS: HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN DENISE P. BUCKLEY, ESQ. New York State Attorney General Assistant Attorney General



         This is an action brought by plaintiff Mattieu Burks pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a number of individuals employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") alleging that they subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment while confined in a New York State prison facility. During the course of discovery, plaintiff's counsel was provided with an investigative file created by the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations ("OSI") regarding the incident giving rise to plaintiff's claims. The case file was disclosed to plaintiff's counsel pursuant to a protective order issued by the court, on stipulation of the parties. Under that order, while plaintiff's counsel is authorized to permit plaintiff to review the materials disclosed, they are otherwise restricted to his counsel on an attorney's-eyes-only basis.

         Currently pending before the court is plaintiff's request for declassification of portions of the OSI file under the governing protective order and, correspondingly, for authorization to publicly disseminate those documents. For the reasons set forth below, the request is granted in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action on June 27, 2016. Dkt. No. 1. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that, at the relevant times, he was confined in the Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), a prison operated by the DOCCS. See generally Id. Generally, plaintiff claims that while at Clinton he was harassed, assaulted, and deprived of certain basic necessities, including water and electricity. Id. Plaintiff's complaint asserts Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claims against several named corrections officers, as well as additional, unidentified Doe defendants. Id.

         During the course of discovery, plaintiff requested the production of a case file created by the OSI in connection with an investigation into plaintiff's allegation that he was assaulted by corrections officers at Clinton on July 5, 2015. To facilitate the production of that file by defendants' counsel, the parties entered into a stipulation providing for the entry of a protective order pursuant to Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 30. The protective order is limited in scope and specific to the OSI case file, and acknowledges the parties' recognition of the confidential and sensitive nature of that file and the security concerns and other deleterious effects that could result from public disclosure of its contents. See generally id. Paragraph eleven of the protective order provides that, in the event the parties dispute "the application of the terms of [the order] to any part of the Protected Records, " they "reserve the right to seek an order from the Court regarding the part of the Protected Records in dispute." Dkt. No. 30 at 6. Following the entry of the stipulated order, the OSI case file was produced to plaintiff's counsel on or about January 15, 2017, redacted to remove social security numbers and personal addresses and designated as CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY VIEWING ONLY. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 33-1.

         Upon receipt of the OSI file, plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to defendants' attorney on January 19, 2017, objecting to the confidentiality designation with regard to certain portions of the OSI file. Dkt. No. 32-3. Assistant New York State Attorney General Denise P. Buckley responded by letter dated February 9, 2017, stating that her office was "instructed by the OSI that they will agree to vary the terms of the So-Ordered Stipulation and Confidentiality Order" in part, and enclosing fifty-one pages of records from the OSI file from which the confidential designation was removed, subject to minor redaction. Dkt. No. 32-4.

         On March 9, 2017, pursuant to paragraph eleven of the protective order, plaintiff filed a motion with the court seeking an order releasing certain of the remaining contents of the OSI file from protection under the order. Dkt. No. 32. Plaintiff's motion implicates the following documents:

Bates Stamp Number



Final OSI report

42-44, 112-114

Inmate witness statements


Transcript of question and answer proceedings, held on 10/14/15, involving defendant John Mark Cross


Plaintiff's statement to OSI

Dkt. No. 33 at 12-14. Defendants oppose plaintiff's motion. Dkt. No. 34. Oral argument was held concerning the motion on March 31, 2017, during a telephone conference conducted on the record, at which time decision regarding the motion was reserved.


         A. Confli ...

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