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Williams v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 2, 2016

CHARLES C. WILLIAMS
v.
THE CITY OF HARTFORD, et al.

RULING ON MOTIONS TO COMPEL [DOC. ##103, 107, 108]

HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Pending before the Court are three motions filed by plaintiff Charles C. Williams ("plaintiff"), seeking to compel discovery from defendants, Emery Hightower ("Hightower"), Cheryl Gogins ("Gogins"), Kimberly Taylor ("Taylor"), the City of Hartford ("Hartford" or the "City") and Terry Waller ("Waller") (Hightower, Gogins, Taylor, the City, and Waller are hereinafter sometimes collectively referred to as the "defendants"). [Doc. ##103, 107, 108]. Defendants filed a joint objection to plaintiff's first Motion for Order Compelling Discovery. [Doc. #105]. Plaintiff has also filed several letters, notices, and a brief in support of the pending motions to compel. [Doc. ##125, 121, 128, 129, 146]. For the reasons articulated below, the Court: DENIES, as moot, plaintiff's Motion for Order Compelling Discovery [Doc. #103]; GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, plaintiff's Motion to Compel Defendant "Kimberly Taylor" for Order of Discovery Request [Doc. #107]; and GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, plaintiff's Motion to Order Defendants Taylor, Hightower, Gogins, and the City to Comply with Court Order [Doc. #108] .

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 and Connecticut state law alleging police misconduct, malicious prosecution, illegal arrest, false arrest, obstruction of justice, defamation, libel, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Doc. #42, Amended Complaint. He alleges violations of his rights under the First, Eighth, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id.

The following allegations are derived from plaintiff's Amended Complaint. See Doc. #42. Plaintiff alleges that his former girlfriend, A.P., filed a false complaint against him for aggravated sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. Plaintiff alleges that the defendants, Chief of the Hartford Police Hightower, Hartford Fire Chief Waller, Hartford Detective Gogins, and defendant Taylor, colluded with A.P. to file this false complaint. Plaintiff was ultimately arrested on charges of aggravated assault and risk of injury to minor. Plaintiff alleges that he was acquitted of the sexual assault charge. Plaintiff further alleges that the arrest warrant application for these charges contained false statements by defendant Gogins and A.P., and was presented to a judge along with fabricated evidence. Plaintiff alleges that the arrest warrant was not supported by probable cause. Plaintiff also alleges that the Hartford Police Department has an unofficial policy of perjuring statements in order to obtain arrest warrants.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has filed three motions seeking to compel discovery responses from the defendants. [Doc. ##103, 107, 108]. On February 17, 2016, the Court held an in-person case management and discovery status conference to address, among other matters, the issues raised in the motions to compel. [Doc. ##131, 132]. Because plaintiff proceeds in this matter pro se, the Court interprets his briefing "liberally" and reads his filings "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Mikinberg v. Baltic S.S. Co., 988 F.2d 327, 330 (2d Cir. 1993)). "Though a court need not act as an advocate for pro se litigants, in pro se cases there is a greater burden and a correlative greater responsibility upon the district court to insure that constitutional deprivations are redressed and that justice is done." Davis v. Kelly, 160 F.3d 917, 922 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978)). Bearing this in mind, and to the extent the Court can glean from his submissions the discovery plaintiff seeks to obtain, the Court will address each motion in turn.

I. Legal Standard

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the scope and limitations of permissible discovery:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "The party resisting discovery bears the burden of showing why discovery should be denied." Cole v. Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby, 256 F.R.D. 79, 80 (D. Conn. 2009).

II. Motion for Order Compelling Discovery [Doc. #103]

Plaintiff's first Motion for Order Compelling Discovery [Doc. #103] seeks to compel responses to plaintiff's written discovery requests directed to each of the defendants. [Doc. #103]. Because the relief sought in this motion is identical to that sought in plaintiff's more substantive "Motion to Order All defendants to Compel Defendants 'Kimberly Taylor, Emery Hightower, Cheryl Gogins, City of Hartford, Hartford Police Dept.' Comply with Court Order" [Doc. #108], the Court DENIES, as moot, plaintiff's first Motion for Order Compelling Discovery. [Doc. #103].

III. Motion to Compel Defendant "Kimberly Taylor" for an Order of Discovery Request [Doc. #107]

Plaintiff seeks to compel responses to two sets of discovery requests, dated October 24, 2015, and September 30, 2015, directed to defendant Taylor. [Doc. #107] . Plaintiff contends that defendant Taylor "has not completely complied with the discovery request." Id. at 1. Attached to plaintiff's motion are defendant Taylor's responses and objections to the discovery requests at issue. Id. at 6-9, 17-19. In plaintiff's Brief in Support of Motions to Compel Requested Discovery, plaintiff reiterates the documents and other information he seeks from defendant Taylor. [Doc. #121 at 1]. The Court will address each contested request in turn.[1]

a. Documents Relating to Defendant Taylor's Job Duties (Request 1)

Plaintiff seeks the following documents in his September 30, 2015, and October 24, 2015, requests for production, respectively:

1. Any and all articles, rules, policy, regulation, directives, or guidelines pertaining to "Ms. Taylor" job description.
1. Any and all rules, policy, guidelines and regulations of her job description code of conduct, standards, of her employment for the "City of Hartford."

[Doc. #107 at 6, 17]. Defendant Taylor did not object to these requests, and responded "See attached." Id. Plaintiff fails to articulate how defendant Taylor's production is deficient with respect to these Requests. Because the Court cannot speculate as to what is missing, or how defendant Taylor's production is otherwise deficient, the Court DENIES plaintiff's motion to compel as to Request 1 directed to defendant Taylor.

b. Documents Relating to "Citizen Complaints" (Requests 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8)

The next category of requests relates to "citizen complaints" filed by plaintiff with the Hartford Police Department. Plaintiff seeks the following documents:

2. Identify and attach copy of internal affairs investigations reports pertaining to any and all civilian complaints filed by the "plaintiff" that went through Defendant "Taylor" office.
2. Copy of citizen complaints filed by the plaintiff and reviews, evaluations and recommendations, and responses, or findings by investigators who investigated the plaintiff citizen complaints in 2012, 2013, and 2015.
3. Copy of the defendant reviews of the plaintiff's citizen complaints in 2012 and 2013.
4. Copies of incident reports, investigative reports filed pertaining to the plaintiff citizen complaints in 2012, 2013 and findings by the civilian police review board.
5. Copy of any reports, or documents pertaining to the plaintiff "Appeal" he filed in opposition to the "chief of police" findings to the plaintiff citizen complaint (#cc2015-019).
6. Copy of any reports, investigations pertaining to citizen complaints filed by the plaintiff in 2012, 2013, 2015 and citizen complaint #cc2015-019.
8. Copy of all incident reports pertaining to citizen complaint (# cc2015-019) case #2014-33708 and 2013-33708.

[Doc. #107 at 6-8, 17-18]. To all but one of these requests, [2] defendant Taylor posed the same objection and response:

The defendant objects to this request for production in that it is overbroad and unduly burdensome. Additionally, the defendant objects to the request for production in that it is vague, in relation to what documents specifically the plaintiff seeks. The defendant objects to this request for production in so far as it may be construed to seek documents or information other than statistical data, such as police reports or incident reports or evidence related to other cases. Any such information is immaterial and irrelevant to the allegations against this defendant. . . . Additionally, such information may [be] protected from disclosure by multiple Connecticut statutes.
Additionally, the defendant objects because such case files may contain significant confidential and personal information[.] Any medical information in the files would be protected from disclosure pursuant to [HIPAA] and its corresponding federal regulations, as well as Connecticut statutes.
Notwithstanding and without waiver of objection, I am referring the plaintiff to the production of Cheryl Gogins and Emory Hightower, incorporated herein by reference.

[Doc. #107 at 6-8 (internal citations omitted)]. As an initial matter, the Court notes that many of defendant Taylor's objections, reflecting concerns about the disclosure of private or confidential information, have largely been addressed by the Court's order granting defendants' joint motion for protective order (hereinafter the "Protective Order"). See Doc. #132 at 4- 5. Additionally, plaintiff specifically states in his motion that any confidential information such as phone numbers, victim names, and medical information, may be redacted from the documents produced. [Doc. #107 at 3]. Accordingly, defendant Taylor's objections with respect to the disclosure of private or confidential information are SUSTAINED by agreement or prior ruling of this Court. See id.[3]

Turning to the substance of plaintiff's requests, many of the requests are duplicative, vague and unduly burdensome as currently phrased. Nevertheless, plaintiff clarifies precisely what he seeks in his Brief in support of Motions to compel Requested Discovery:

The plaintiff seeks Any and all grievance, complaints, of his own citizen complaints he had filed with the police review board which the defendants had received, which concerned mistreatment of the plaintiff by the defendants. The plaintiff seeks Any documents, created in response to the plaintiffs citizen complaints such as memorandum, investigative files from independent private investigators Firm which had investigated the plaintiff's complaints in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

[Doc. #121 at 4 (sic)]. In short, plaintiff seeks copies of the citizen complaints he previously filed and the Hartford Police Department's investigations and responses to those complaints. These complaints are relevant because they form the basis of the retaliation claim in Count 8 of the Amended Complaint.

In her responses, defendant Taylor refers plaintiff to the production of defendants Gogins and Hightower, but does not specifically identify the Bates numbers of the other production which is responsive to the requests. Therefore, on or before May 16, 2016, defendant Taylor shall provide plaintiff with amended responses that identify by Bates number the documents responsive to plaintiff's requests. Additionally, defendant Taylor shall produce to plaintiff, to the extent they have not already been produced by another defendant, copies of any citizen complaints filed by plaintiff with the Hartford Police Department for the years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Defendant Taylor shall also produce, on or before May 16, 2016, to the extent that such documents have not already been produced by another defendant, any non-privileged documents generated in the course of investigating plaintiff's complaints, including, without limitation, any command review worksheets, investigative reports, investigative plans, and/or interdepartmental memoranda relating to plaintiff's specific complaints. Defendant Taylor may redact these documents in accordance with the Court's Protective Order. See Doc. #132 at 4-5, Doc. #107 at 3.

Accordingly, for the reasons stated, plaintiff's Motion to Compel Defendant "Kimberly Taylor" for Order of Discovery Request [Doc. #107] is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part, as articulated above.

IV. Motion to Order Defendants Taylor, Hightower, Gogins, and the City to Comply with Court Order [Doc. #108]

Plaintiff's next motion seeks an order compelling defendants Taylor, Hightower, Gogins, the City and Waller[4] to respond to plaintiff's document requests. [Doc. #108].[5]

a. Law Applicable to Certain Requests

Many of plaintiff's requests to the remaining defendants are duplicative and/or implicate the same principles of law, necessitating the below review of applicable law.

i. "Answers" to Requests for Production

The Court's review of the defendants' responses to plaintiff's discovery requests reveals that in a number of instances, substantive narrative responses were provided instead of documents due to the wording of plaintiff's requests. Such responses constitute an "answer" which, pursuant to Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, requires a signature under oath by the responding party. See Napolitano v. Synthes USA, LLC, 297 F.R.D. 194, 200 (D. Conn. 2014) (supplemental response to request for production, which stated that all documents had been produced, was "an answer" that required signature under oath by party).

ii. Assertions of Connecticut Law

Many of the defendants' objections, which invoke privacy concerns akin to a privilege, are based on Connecticut state law. "[Q]uestions about privilege in federal question cases are resolved by the federal common law." Woodward Governor Co. v. Curtiss Wright Flight Sys., Inc., 164 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 1999) (alterations added); see also Vidal v. Metro-N. Commuter Ry. Co., No. 3:12CV0248(MPS)(WIG), 2014 WL 413952, at *3 (D. Conn. Feb. 4, 2014) ("Where the district court's subject matter jurisdiction is based on a federal question, privilege issues are governed by federal common law."). Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 and Connecticut state law alleging police misconduct, malicious prosecution, illegal arrest, false arrest, obstruction of justice, defamation, libel, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Doc. #42. "[T]he Second Circuit has held that where there is federal question jurisdiction and the evidence sought is relevant to both the federal and state claims, 'courts consistently have held that the asserted privileges are governed by the principles of federal law.'" Tavares v. Lawrence & Mem'1 Hosp., No. 3:11CV770(CSH), 2012 WL 4321961, at *6 (D. Conn. Sept. 20, 2012) (alterations added) (quoting von Bulow by Auersperg v. von Bulow, 811 F.2d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1987)). In an action such as the one at issue here, "where federal jurisdiction is based on the presence of a federal claim and supplemental jurisdiction exists over the state claim, federal law of privilege controls the question whether the privileges asserted ... should be recognized." Id. (alterations in original). Accordingly, because plaintiff has filed a federal claim seeking redress for alleged violations of his civil rights, and has invoked the Court's supplemental jurisdiction over his State law claims for defamation, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, any privileged asserted by the defendants is governed by federal common law.

Among others, defendants specifically invoke Connecticut General Statute section 31-128f, which recognizes a privacy interest in personnel files. Although this statute, like the others cited, "may be viewed as persuasive in expressing the Connecticut legislature's desire to protect the privacy of such records, [] it does not control." Id. (alterations added) . "Judges in this District have repeatedly recognized that when personnel information ... is necessary and relevant to a case, a court may order limited disclosure of that information consistent with the dictates of § 31-128f." Gibbs v. Am. Sch. For The Deaf, No. 3:05CV563(MRK), 2007 WL 1079992, at *1 (D. Conn. Apr. 4, 2007) (alterations added) (collecting cases).

iii. Disclosure of Police Disciplinary Records

Plaintiff seeks documents relating to several of the defendants' work histories within the Hartford Police and Fire Departments, including suspensions, reprimands, disciplinary histories and sanctions. See, e.g., Doc. #108 at 17. As a general matter, in a section 1983 case such as this, "[d]isciplinary records involving complaints of a similar nature, whether substantiated or unsubstantiated, could lead to evidence that would be admissible at trial and thus, are discoverable." Frails v. City of New York, 236 F.R.D. 116, 117-18 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (alterations added) (compiling cases). "The theory for permitting discovery concerning disciplinary history is that it may lead to evidence of pattern, intent and absence of mistake, or support a plaintiff's claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)[.]" Phillips v. City of New York, 277 F.R.D. 82, 83 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (internal citations omitted). "Accordingly, courts have held that records of disciplinary charges, internal investigations, and complaints concerning prior instances of misconduct which are similar to the misconduct alleged by the plaintiff 'could lead to evidence that would be admissible at trial and thus, are discoverable.'" Chillemi v. Town of Southampton, No. 12-3370(ADS)(ART), 2015 WL 1781496, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 20, 2015) (quoting Frails, 236 F.R.D. at 117-18).

With this framework in mind, the Court turns to the discovery requests at issue.

b. Requests directed to Defendant Detective Gogins

Plaintiff served defendant Gogins, in both her individual and official capacities, with two sets of requests for production, dated September 7, 2015, and September 30, 2015, respectively. See Doc. #108 at 11-16, 29-34. The Court's review of the Requests, and defendant Gogins' responses, reveals that both the Requests and the responses are identical. Accordingly, for purposes of this Ruling, the Court will refer only to the September 7, 2015, Requests, along with the respective responses and objections.

i. Request 2

Plaintiff's first Request seeks: "Any and all articles, rules, policy, regulations of the Hartford Police Department Officer's conduct or standards on and off duty[.]" [Doc. #108 at 11]. Defendant Gogins objected:

This defendant objects to this request for production in so far as it is immaterial and irrelevant to the allegations against this defendant. ... Furthermore this request for production is unlike to lead to the discovery of admissible information evidence. Furthermore, the defendant objects because this request production is overly broad and unduly burdensome.

Id. (sic). Plaintiff clarifies in his Brief in Support of Motions to Compel Requested Discovery that he seeks the Hartford Police Department's "code of conduct on duty, Police of standard of care or duty of care that owed to the public in the Community[, ]" and a "Copy of Hartford police officers oaths to become a police officer." [Doc. #121 at 3]. Plaintiff's request as phrased is overly broad and unduly burdensome on its face. Nevertheless, in light of the allegations of plaintiff's Amended Complaint which allege police misconduct and abuse of power within the Hartford Police Department during the years 2012 and 2013, see, e.g., Doc. #42, at 5530, 34-40, on or before May 16, 2016, defendant Gogins shall produce to plaintiff: (1) a copy of the Hartford Police Department's Code of Conduct effective in 2012 and 2013; and (2) a copy of the police officer's oath upon taking office effective in 2012 and 2013. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, plaintiff's motion to compel with respect to Request 1 directed to defendant Gogins.

ii. Request 2

Plaintiff's second Request seeks "Rule against falsifying statements, or incident reports[, ]" to which defendant Gogins objected:

This defendant objects to this request for production in so far as it is immaterial and irrelevant to the allegations against this defendant. ... Furthermore this request for production is unlike to lead to the discovery of admissible information evidence. Furthermore, the defendant objects because this request production is overly broad and unduly burdensome.

[Doc. #108 at 11 (sic)]. In light of the plaintiff's pro se status, the Court construes this request as seeking any Hartford Police Department rules prohibiting the falsification of incident reports or affidavits supporting warrant applications, which were effective during 2012 and 2013. Again, this Request, as construed by the Court, is relevant to plaintiff's allegation that defendant Gogins "supplied a false statement in her Affidavits for the arrest Warrant Applications ... and fabricated false evidence and presented that information to [a judge]." [Doc. #42 at 522]. It further goes to plaintiff's Monell claims against the City that there was an "unofficial policy" of Hartford police officers providing perjured statements to obtain arrest warrants. Id. at 136. See, e.g., Fletcher by Fletcher v. City of New York, No. 84CV1376(IBC), 1988 WL 13770, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 16, 1988) (In a section 1983 case alleging that defendant City of New York was negligent in investigating a shooting and that through its employees it violated decedent plaintiff's rights, the Court ordered defendant to produce "Police Department guidelines, rules, regulations, patrol guides, interim orders and any other documents from the Police Academy as to the requirements for submitting evidence obtained at a crime scene to police laboratory for analysis, effective in 1983[.]"). Therefore, on or before May 16, 2016, defendant Gogins ...


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