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New York Prison Officials Ordered to Produce Prisoner’s Grievances in Discovery

On December 4, 2009, a New York Court of Claims ordered prison officials to produce copies of a prisoner’s grievances, but denied the claimant’s motion to produce grievances filed by other prisoners.

Before the Court was a motion to compel production of documents in a two-count complaint for damages. The complaint was filed by Johnathan Johnson, a prisoner at New York’s Upstate Correctional Facility. Johnson’s claims involved 1) prison officials’ failure to decide grievances filed by him and other prisoners in a fair, impartial and satisfactory manner, and 2) injuries caused by prison officials’ practice of keeping a light on in his cell from nightfall to sunrise.

The Court of Claims held that Johnson’s discovery request for grievances filed by other prisoners from 2007-2009 related to facility conditions and staff conduct, as well as those concerning use of night-lights, were not relevant to his claims because they were not filed by him.

While the Court denied the request to compel production of those grievances, it held that 177 grievances filed by Johnson himself between 2007 and 2009 were relevant to his claims. Prison officials were ordered to produce those documents and provide Johnson with copies once he had paid the copying fees. As prison officials had since produced a memorandum on the use of night-lights, that discovery issue was deemed moot.

Johnson later filed a motion for “rehearing” after being informed the copies of his grievances would cost $297.50. He sought to have the copies “made at the correctional facility law library, presumably at a lesser cost ....” The Court of Claims denied his motion on June 8, 2010, holding “there is no procedural device that entitles claimant to a ‘rehearing.’” See: Johnson v. New York, Albany Court of Claims (NY), Claim No. 116398.

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Related legal case

Johnson v. New York