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New York Court of Claims Orders DOCCS to Turn Over OSI Report, Guards’ Personnel Files

by Dale Chappell

The New York Court of Claims ordered the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to produce records in two cases where prisoners filed claims alleging excessive force by guards.

In the first case, in an October 24, 2018 ruling, Judge Frank Milano ordered DOCCS to turn over a report by the Office of Special Investigation (OSI) to prisoner William Apholz, after he filed a claim seeking damages for an alleged assault and use of excessive force by guard Dale Dubrey at the Bare Hill Correctional Facility.

DOCCS had argued that privacy concerns for Dubrey and his family outweighed releasing the records, but the Court of Claims held that redacted portions of the report could be disclosed to Apholz’s attorney as long as he kept them private. The court noted that state law, CPLR 3101, allowed for disclosure of documents, but that the “public interest privilege” invoked by DOCCS would require the redaction of certain information related to other guards, but not Dubrey. The court also ordered the release of the identities of prisoners who had witnessed the incident, without redactions.

In the second case, decided on October 25, 2018 by Judge Francis Collins, the Court of Claims ordered the disclosure of certain personnel files of guards involved in an alleged assault and battery at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in April 2017.

Under CPLR 3101(a), the court found that the claimant, prisoner Kareem Lee, had met his burden to show the need for the files of the guards involved, but denied his request for records of past disciplinary actions against those guards for use of force. 

“It is improper to prove that a person did an act on a particular occasion by showing that he did a similar act on a different, unrelated occasion,” the court wrote.

It did, however, order DOCCS to turn over the identities of the prisoners who had witnessed the incident, just as in Apholz’s case. Further, DOCCS was ordered to produce recordings of the incident within 30 days. The state initially said it would provide Lee with a copy of the recordings if it decided to use them at trial. The court said that wasn’t enough.

Lee also requested color copies of the photos that prison staff took of him after the incident, as the state had only produced black-and-white photocopies. The court directed DOCCS to give him color copies within 30 days. 

In a subsequent ruling in Lee’s case on June 19, 2019, the Court of Claims ruled on his motion to compel the defendants to respond to interrogatories and admissions. The defendants had “admittedly failed to timely serve an objection” to the interrogatories. As such, the court noted that “The law is settled that when a party fails to timely object to interrogatories, review is limited to ‘whether the requested material is privileged under CPLR 3101 or the demand is palpably improper.’” 

However, most of Lee’s interrogatories did “not make sense” and thus were improper, as he had substituted the State of New York as the respondent for the interrogatories rather than the names of defendant prison guards. Also, when a defendant fails to timely respond to admissions, they are deemed admitted; thus, Lee’s motion to compel was denied. See: Apholz v. State of New York, NY Court of Claims, Claim No. 130208, UID 2018-041-068 and Lee v. State of New York, NY Court of Claims, Claim No. 129942, UID 2019-015-150. 

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Related legal cases

Lee v. State of New York

Apholz v. State of New York