Murphy v. City of Elmira et al
DECISION AND ORDER: Defendants' motion to unseal, ECF No. 119, is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiff's request to prohibit Defendants from introducing evidence suppressed in the state-court proceedings, ECF No. 133, is DENIED WITHOUT PREJ UDICE. Plaintiff's request that the Court prohibit Defendants from using the unsealed records for any purpose other than their defense in this action, ECF No. 133, is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. SO ORDERED. Signed by Hon. Frank P. Geraci, Jr. on 11/14/2023. (RWW)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
CHRISTOPHER M. MURPHY,
Case # 18-CV-6572-FPG
DECISION & ORDER
CITY OF ELMIRA, et al.,
Defendants have filed a motion to unseal the record of certain state-court criminal
proceedings related to this action. ECF No. 119. Plaintiff partially opposes. ECF No. 133, 136.
As explained below, Defendants’ motion is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Defendants have moved pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) § 160.50
to unseal the records in three Elmira City Court (“City Court”) criminal proceedings related to this
action.1 ECF No. 119. They assert that the records must be unsealed so that they may use them
in their defense. ECF No. 119-1 ¶¶ 5-8. Plaintiff opposes the motion on the grounds that (1)
Defendants have made the motion in the wrong forum and before the wrong judge; (2) that the
motion amounts to an untimely request for discovery; (3) Defendants have failed to explain with
particularity why they need the state-court records; and (4) the evidence subject to suppression by
the state-court is inadmissible pursuant to the exclusionary rule. See ECF No. 133 at 1-12.2 He
Defendants identify the proceedings as (1) People of the State of New York v. Christopher M. Murphy, No. 201282841; (2) Matter of People of the State of New York v. Chrstopher Murphy, Case No. 2015-92181; and (3) City of
Elmira v. Christopher Murphy, No. 15-5460. ECF No. 119 at 1.
Plaintiff also filed a proposed sur-reply and seeks permission to file the sur-reply pursuant to Loc. R. Civ. P. 7(a)(6).
Plaintiff’s request is granted. The Court will consider the arguments Plaintiff raises in the proposed sur-reply in
considering Defendants’ motion.
does not oppose unsealing the records in Case No. 2012-82841 to the extent that they relate to the
dismissal of the charges against him. ECF No. 136 at 3.
As explained below, Defendants’ motion is denied. Further, to the extent Plaintiff asks the
Court to preclude Defendants from presenting evidence pursuant to the exclusionary rule, that
request is denied without prejudice to renewal should Defendants seek to introduce evidence that
Plaintiff believes should be excluded. To the extent that Plaintiff asks the Court to enter an order
limiting the use of any unsealed records, that request is also denied without prejudice to renewal.
“Upon the termination of a criminal action or proceeding against a person in favor of such
a person,” CPL § 160.50 requires the sealing of “all official records and papers, including
judgments and orders of a court . . . relating to the arrest or prosecution . . . on file with the division
of criminal justice services, any court, police agency, or prosecutor’s office.” CPL § 160.50(1)(c).
The sealing requirement is broad and applies even to “proceedings terminated by virtue of
dismissals and vacaturs, on grounds unrelated to guilt or innocence, so that a former accused may
pursue employment, education, professional licensing and insurance opportunities untainted by
the stigma of a criminal prosecution.” Harper v. Angiolillo, 89 N.Y.2d 761, 766 (1997).
“The sealing is not necessarily permanent, however.” Lehman v. Kornblau, 206 F.R.D.
345, 347 (E.D.N.Y. 2001). “New York cases are clear that a party otherwise protected by a §
160.50 sealing of records can waive that protection by commencing a civil action and placing
protected information into issue.” Green v. Montgomery, 219 F.3d 52, 57 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing
Kalogris v. Roberts, 185 A.D.2d 335, 336 (2d Dep’t 1992); Taylor v. New York City Transit Auth.,
131 A.D.2d 460, 461 (2d Dep’t 1987)); see Wright v. Snow, 175 A.D.2d 451, 452 (3d Dep’t 1991).
Still, “[t]he federal courts have no general power to compel action by state officials.” Davis
v. Lansing, 851 F.2d 72, 74 (2d Cir. 1988). Therefore, “[t]he threshold issue is how the unsealing
can be effected under the circumstances presented here.” Lehman, 206 F.R.D. at 347. Generally,
courts have required parties to first apply to the state court to lift the CPL § 160.50 sealing order.
See e.g., Thomas v. Prinzi, No. 15-CV-6061, 2016 WL 5334439, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2016)
(“[R]equests for access to sealed records should be made, in the first instance, to the court that
issued the sealing order or by subpoena or request to the clerk of the court or the prosecuting
attorney.”); Townes v. New York City, No. CV-94-2595, 1996 WL 164961, at *10 (E.D.N.Y.
March 28, 1996) (“To the extent plaintiff’s motion seeks files in the custody of the state court, it
must be denied both because it is procedurally defective and in the interests of comity.”).
However, “the Court acknowledges that district courts do possess the authority to unseal
state criminal records in the possession of a state district attorney, when the records are relevant to
the federal lawsuit and ‘the district attorney moves to quash a subpoena, or objects to a discovery
demand.’” K.A. v. City of New York, No. 16-CV-4936, 2022 WL 1063125, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr.
8, 2022) (quoting Lehman, 206 F.R.D. at 347) (emphasis added); see also Bertuglia v. City of New
York, No. 11 Civ. 2141, 2014 WL 626848, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2014) (citing Cruz v. Kennedy,
No. 97 Civ. 4001, 1997 WL 839483, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 1997)) (“[W]hen the district attorney
objects to a discovery demand, it is within the power of the district court to issue an order
compelling production.”). Accordingly, district courts have concluded that they have the authority
to order records unsealed where (a) the district attorney is a party to the proceeding or (b) the party
has subpoenaed the district attorney and the district attorney has moved to quash the subpoena.
See Lehman, 206 F.R.D. at 347; Cruz, 1997 WL 839483, at *2.
By bringing this civil action, Plaintiff has waived the privilege of keeping the state-court
records sealed. See Green, 219 F.3d at 57; Wright, 175 A.D.2d at 452. However, at this stage of
the proceedings, this Court is without authority to order the state-court records unsealed. See
Thomas, 2016 WL 5334439, at *2; Townes, 1996 WL 164961, at *10. First, there is no indication
that Defendants have sought access to the records by application to City Court. See Thomas, 2016
WL 5334439, at *2. Second, the relevant prosecuting authority, whether the Chemung County
District Attorney or the City of Elmira, is not a party to this action. ECF Nos. 10, 16 (dismissing
with prejudice claims against City of Elmira and ordering Clerk of Court to terminate City of
Elmira as Defendant); see Lehman, 206 F.R.D. at 347. Third, Defendants do not appear to have
sought access to the sealed records by subpoena to either the Chemung County District Attorney
or the City of Elmira. See K.A., 2022 WL 1063125, at *2; Cruz, 1997 WL 839483, at *2.
Therefore, although Plaintiff has waived his privilege with respect to the state-court records and
the records Defendants seek may be relevant to their defense, this Court is without authority to
order the state-court documents unsealed. See Thomas, 2016 WL 5334439, at *2; Townes, 1996
WL 164961, at *10. Defendants’ motion to unseal is therefore denied.
The Exclusionary Rule
Plaintiff argues that, should the Court grant any portion of Defendants’ motion, it should
prohibit the use of “any evidence suppressed” by City Court pursuant to the exclusionary rule.
ECF No. 133 at 12. Because the Court has denied Defendants’ motion in its entirety, the Court
denies Plaintiff’s request as moot. Plaintiff may renew his request if Defendants seek to introduce
any evidence that Plaintiff believes was subject to City Court’s suppression order.
Limiting Use of Unsealed Records
Plaintiff further requests that, should the Court grant Defendants’ motion, the Court
prohibit Defendants from using the unsealed records “in connection with any other case or for any
other purpose or in any way other than defensively in” this action. ECF No. 133 at 13. Because
the Court has denied Defendants’ motion in its entirety, the Court denies Plaintiff’s request as
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion to unseal, ECF No. 119, is DENIED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiff’s request to prohibit Defendants from introducing evidence
suppressed in the state-court proceedings, ECF No. 133, is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Plaintiff’s request that the Court prohibit Defendants from using the unsealed records for any
purpose other than their defense in this action, ECF No. 133, is DENIED WITHOUT
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: November 14, 2023
Rochester, New York
HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR.
United States District Judge
Western District of New York
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