Williams v. County of Alameda, The et al

Filing 52

DISCOVERY ORDER RE: NAMED DEFENDANTS INTERNAL AFFAIRS FILES re: 51 Joint Discovery Letter Brief. Signed by Judge Maria-Elena James on 8/27/2013. (cdnS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 8/28/2013)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 Northern District of California 6 7 CURTIS D. WILLIAMS, No. C 12-2511 SBA (MEJ) Plaintiff, 8 DISCOVERY ORDER RE: NAMED DEFENDANTS’ INTERNAL AFFAIRS FILES v. 9 THE COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, et al., 10 Defendants. _____________________________________/ INTRODUCTION 12 For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 13 In this civil rights case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the parties have filed a joint 14 discovery letter regarding Plaintiff Curtis Williams’ request for the named defendant officers’ internal 15 affairs files. Dkt. No. 51. Having considered the parties’ letter and relevant legal authority, the Court 16 now issues the following order. BACKGROUND 17 18 Plaintiff Curtis Williams brings this case against the County of Alameda and several named 19 defendants that are Alameda County Sheriff’s Office officers alleging six claims for relief: unlawful 20 entry; unnecessary force; violation of equal protection; unlawful arrest; malicious prosecution; and a 21 Monell claim. Dkt. No. 44. On August 23, 2012, Plaintiff served his First Request for Inspection or 22 Production of Documents. Jt. Ltr. at 2, Dkt. No. 51. Plaintiff’s Request for Production No. 20 states: 23 “Produce the personnel files of defendant deputies Kevin H. Estep, Justin Miguel, Brian R. Fernandez 24 and Michael J. Giammalvo, defendant lieutenant Thomas F. Madigan, and defendant sergeant Mario 25 M. Felix.” Id. 26 On October 16, 2012, after receiving an extension of time to answer, Defendants objected to 27 this request for production on the grounds that it is overly broad as to time and to subject matter, 28 would impose an undue burden and expense on Defendants, and seeks information not relevant to this 1 action and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id. Defendants 2 further objected to this request for production as it sought confidential documents and information 3 protected by constitutional, statutory, common law right of privacy or the qualified privilege for 4 official information. Id. 5 On August 23, 2013, the parties filed their joint discovery dispute letter regarding Plaintiff’s 6 request for the named defendants’ internal affairs files. Dkt. No. 51. In the letter, the parties state 7 that counsel for Plaintiff and Defendants have met and conferred extensively regarding the scope of 8 the Request for Production and, through the meet and confer process, Plaintiff has agreed to narrow 9 his request from the entire personnel files of the named defendants to just the internal affairs files for 10 the named defendants. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff argues that the personnel file of a law enforcement officer 12 response, Defendants assert that the requested internal affairs files are privileged due to the official For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 sued for violating the Constitution is “obviously relevant” and should be produced. Id. at 3. In 13 information privilege, and because disclosure would violate the individual officers’ privacy. Id. at 4. 14 15 LEGAL STANDARD Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any 16 nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). 17 “Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably 18 calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Id. A relevant matter is “any matter that 19 bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on, any issue that is or may be 20 in the case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). Moreover, discovery is 21 not limited to only those specific issues raised in the pleadings since it is designed to define and 22 clarify the issues in the case. Miller v. Pancucci, 141 F.R.D. 292, 296 (C.D. Cal. 1992) (citing 23 Oppenheimer, 437 U.S. at 351). As such, the question of relevancy should be construed “liberally 24 and with common sense” and discovery should be allowed unless the information sought has no 25 conceivable bearing on the case. Id. 26 “Federal common law recognizes a qualified privilege for official information.” Soto v. City 27 of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 613 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (citing Kerr v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for the N. Dist. of 28 2 1 Cal., 511 F.2d 192, 198 (9th Cir. 1975)). Under the official information privilege, internal affairs 2 investigative materials and government personnel records may be protected from disclosure. Id. at 3 623; see also Kelly v. City of San Jose, 114 F.R.D. 653, 660 (N.D. Cal. 1987). In civil rights cases, 4 the Court has adopted a balancing test that is moderately pre-weighted in favor of disclosure. Kelly, 5 114 F.R.D. at 661. The party resisting discovery bears the burden of proving that disclosure is not 6 required. Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 609. 7 8 ANALYSIS Here, there appears to be no dispute that the internal affairs files could reasonably be 9 calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Instead, Defendants argue that disclosure 10 of internal affairs records will create a substantial risk of harm to the reliability of the internal affairs 12 of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigations is entirely dependent upon officers’ For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 investigatory system. Jt. Ltr. at 4. Specifically, Defendants argue that the reliability of the findings 13 truthfulness, and that if these types of records are disclosed, officers would be discouraged from 14 being truthful during internal investigations regarding fellow officers’ conduct. Id. Defendants 15 further argue that internal affairs documents should be kept confidential because “‘protecting peace 16 officers from publication of frivolous or unwarranted charges, and maintaining confidence in law 17 enforcement agencies by avoiding premature disclosure of groundless claims of police misconduct.’” 18 Id. (quoting Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court, 39 Cal. 4th 1272, 1298 (Cal. 2006)). 19 As to Defendants’ first argument, several courts, including this one, have rejected identical 20 “chilling effect” arguments. Harper v. City of San Jose, 2011 WL 941094, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 17, 21 2011); Watson v. Albin, 2008 WL 1925257, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 30, 2008) (“[Defendant’s] 22 arguments that disclosure would discourage exhaustive internal investigations are unpersuasive. 23 Courts in this district have previously rejected such claims, and there is no reason to depart from that 24 reasoning here.”); Mai Thi Vu v. Clark, 2006 WL 3318096, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2006) (“There 25 is no support for an argument that disclosure would lead to a breakdown of the IA investigation 26 system and in the past, courts have struck down such reasoning.”). The Court sees no reason to 27 depart from this conclusion. 28 3 1 As to Defendants’ privacy argument, they rely on California privilege law, which is not 2 binding on federal courts in federal civil rights cases. Kelly, 114 F.R.D. at 655-56. However, federal 3 courts do recognize a right of privacy respecting confidential law enforcement records. Id. at 660-61; 4 Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 616. Such claims are closely scrutinized when the documents at issue are related 5 to the officers’ work with the police department. Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 616 (suggesting that internal 6 investigation files are not protected by right of privacy when documents “related simply to the 7 officers’ work as police officers”) (citing Denver Policemen’s Protective Ass’n v. Lichtenstein, 660 8 F.2d 432, 435 (10th Cir.1981)). If an individual’s privacy is at stake, courts balance “the need for the 9 information sought against the privacy right asserted.” Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 616. Moreover, “[i]n the 10 context of the disclosure of police files, courts have recognized that privacy rights are not 12 afforded to federal law in civil rights cases against police departments.” Id. Further, “a carefully For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 inconsequential. . . . However, these privacy interests must be balanced against the great weight 13 drafted protective order could minimize the impact” of disclosure. Id. 14 For reasons similar to those stated by this Court in Soto, the Court concludes that, in applying 15 the balancing analysis to the documents sought by Plaintiff, his need for the documents (containing 16 information that is likely unavailable from any source other than Defendants) outweighs any invasion 17 of privacy with respect to officers named in the reports. The privacy rights of the officers may be 18 sufficiently protected with the use of a tightly drawn protective order, specifying that only counsel for 19 Plaintiff and his experts may have access to the material and that copies of such material will be 20 returned to Defendants at the conclusion of the case. See id. at 617; see also Hernandes v. City of 21 Hayward, 2005 WL 119871, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 20, 2005). 22 CONCLUSION 23 Based on the foregoing, the Court directs Defendants to produce the responsive internal 24 affairs files of the named defendant officers. To the extent Defendants have privacy concerns, the 25 documents shall be produced pursuant to a stipulated protective order and Defendants may redact the 26 following from the documents produced: any personally identifying information, including names of 27 public witnesses (other than Plaintiff), and home addresses and telephone numbers; and police 28 4 1 officers named in the records with no ties to this case. 2 In their joint letter, the parties stipulate that the Court should conduct an in camera review to 3 decide what if any documents should be produced based on Plaintiff’s claims. Jt. Ltr. at 5. 4 Accordingly, the Court ORDERS Defendants to produce the internal affairs files for in camera 5 review within seven days from the date of this Order. Defendants shall have the documents delivered 6 directly to chambers on the 15th Floor. As part of the production, Defendants shall include a draft 7 privilege log that identifies (by page and line number, if possible) all information that they claim 8 should be redacted based on this Order. The Court’s review shall only include those portions of the 9 documents identified by Defendants. 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. 12 Dated: August 27, 2013 For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 _______________________________ Maria-Elena James United States Magistrate Judge 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5

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