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Castellani v. City of A. City

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

April 9, 2015

DAVID CONNOR CASTELLANI, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, et al., Defendants

For Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, Movant: KATHLEEN E. BOND, LEAD ATTORNEY, Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, Mays Landing, NJ.

For DAVID CONNOR CASTELLANI, Plaintiff: JENNIFER ANN BONJEAN, LEAD ATTORNEY, BONJEAN LAW GROUP PLLC, BROOKLYN, NY.

For CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, Defendant: A. MICHAEL BARKER, LEAD ATTORNEY, BARKER,GELFAND & JAMES, LINWOOD, NJ; VANESSA ELAINE JAMES, LEAD ATTORNEY, BARKER SCOTT & GELFAND PC, LINWOOD, NJ; SHARLENN E. PRATT, ZARWIN BAUM DEVITO KAPLAN SCHAER & TODDY PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For POLICE OFFICER STERLING WHEATEN, POLICE OFFICER DARREN LORADY, AVETTE HARPER, Kevin Law, Scott Sendrick, MATTHEW ROGERS, Defendants: SHARLENN E. PRATT, ZACHARY ADAM SILVERSTEIN, ZARWIN BAUM DEVITO KAPLAN SCHAER & TODDY PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE #1-4, Defendant: SHARLENN E. PRATT, ZARWIN BAUM DEVITO KAPLAN SCHAER & TODDY PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN MARIE DONIO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

In this action, Plaintiff David Connor Castellani (hereinafter, " Plaintiff" ) asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Atlantic City Police Officers Sterling Wheaten, Darren Lorady, Avette Harper, Kevin Law, Scott Sendrick, Matthew Rogers, and John Does 1-4 (hereinafter, " Defendant Officers" ) and Defendant City of Atlantic City (hereinafter, " Defendant Atlantic City" ). The issue presently before the Court is whether Defendant Atlantic City may redact the names and identifying information of the witnesses and complainants from the Internal Affairs files (hereinafter, " IA files" ) relating to the Defendant Officers. (See Motion for Protective Order (hereinafter, " Def.'s Mot." ) [Doc. No. 56].) For the reasons set forth herein, the Court denies Defendant Atlantic City's request to redact such information. Accordingly, Defendant Atlantic City is hereby ordered to produce the IA files of the Defendant Officers, without redaction of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the complainants and witnesses.

The present litigation relates to an incident that occurred on June 15, 2013 at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and resulted in Plaintiff allegedly sustaining " serious and life-threatening injuries." (See Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 7], ¶ 37.) Plaintiff acknowledges that he " was intoxicated" at the time of the incident (id. at ¶ ¶ 17-18), but asserts that through no fault of his own, a " heated" exchange with certain Defendant Officers became physical and the Defendant Officers " began to punch, kick, knee, and club the Plaintiff[.]" (Id. at ¶ 29.) Plaintiff also contends that during the physical altercation, Defendant Officer Wheaton arrived with " his canine" and " directed the canine to attack the upper body of Plaintiff, including his neck and head." (Id. at ¶ ¶ 32-33.)

Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on October 21, 2013, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, a civil conspiracy claim, and various state law claims against Defendant Atlantic City and the Defendant Officers. (See generally Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 7].) In the amended complaint, Plaintiff also asserts several municipal/supervisory liability claims against Defendant Atlantic City including, inter alia, a failure to investigate claim. (See id. at ¶ 48(a).) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Atlantic City " formally adopted policies and standard operating procedures designed to prevent formal complaints from being filed with [the] Internal Affairs [U]nit and favoring the statements of [] police officers over the statements of a citizen complaining of police abuse or misconduct[.]" (Id.)

In their answer to the amended complaint, Defendants collectively assert that the Defendant Officers did not " use[] any force greater than was necessary and reasonable under the circumstances[]" (Defendants' Answer to Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 19], ¶ 29), and further assert that Plaintiff's allegations of constitutional violations " are untrue, inaccurate and misleading[.]" (See, e.g., id. at ¶ 44 (setting forth Defendants' answer to Count I of the amended complaint).) In addition, Defendants set forth a number of legal defenses to Plaintiff's claims. (See id. at 19-21 on the docket.)

The issue presently before the Court pertains to the redaction of names and identifying information of witnesses and complainants from the IA files of the Defendant Officers. Counsel for Defendant Atlantic City has agreed to produce the IA files for a six (6) year period, but seeks to redact certain identifying information from these files pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure and Local Civil Rule 5.2.[1] (See Letter [Doc. No. 50], Sept. 16, 2014, 1-2.) Counsel's proposed redactions included (1) removing the names of " all civilian complainants and witnesses, leaving first and last initials; " and (2) removing " all personal identifiers such as social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, telephone numbers, and motor vehicle information[]" of any complainants and witnesses. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff's counsel generally opposes the redaction of the names and identifying information of the complainants and witnesses.[2]

Defendant Atlantic City alleges that the names and identifying information of complainants and witnesses in the Defendant Officers' IA files should remain redacted for three reasons. (See generally Brief in Support of Defendant City of Atlantic City's Motion for a Protective Order (hereinafter, " Def.'s Br." ) [Doc. No. 56-1].) First, Defendant Atlantic City contends that " the names and identifying information of the complainants and witnesses in all prior internal affairs investigations concerning the individually named Defendant police officers in the instant case are not relevant to Plaintiff's Monell claims[.]" (Id. at 4.) Second, even if the information is relevant, Defendant Atlantic City asserts that there is good cause for the entry of a protective order precluding the production of the identifying information. (Id. at 8.) Third, Defendant Atlantic City contends that the identifying information " is protected [by] the law enforcement privilege." (Id. at 13.) In opposition, Plaintiff argues that the information is relevant, Defendant Atlantic City has not demonstrated good cause for a protective order, and the information is not privileged. (See generally Response in Opposition (hereinafter, " Pl.'s Opp." ) [Doc. No. 60].) The Court previously conducted oral argument on the pending motion. This Opinion supplements the Court's prior opinion from the bench on December 12, 2014, at which time the Court denied Defendant Atlantic City's motion [Doc. No. 56].[3]

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) provides that " [p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Furthermore, " [t]he Court may also permit for 'good cause' discovery of matters that are 'relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.'" Hite v. Peters, No. 07-4492, 2009 WL 1748860, at *3 (D.N.J. June 19, 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)). In assessing relevancy under Rule 26(b), " the question of relevancy is to be more loosely construed at the discovery stage than at the trial." Nestle Foods Corp. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 135 F.R.D. 101, 104 (D.N.J. 1990). The scope of discovery is not limitless; rather, the scope of relevant discovery is " circumscribe[d]" by " [t]he complaint and its claims[,]" and " [i]t is against these claims that discoverability is determined as to each discovery request[.]" Toth v. Cal. Univ. of Pa., No. 09-1692, 2011 WL 2436138, at *2 (W.D. Pa. June 15, 2011) (citation omitted).

In this action, Plaintiff asserts a Monell claim that Defendant Atlantic City inadequately investigates civilian complaints of police officer misconduct. See generally Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't. of Social Services,436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). " [I]n order to prove municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must prove that the alleged constitutional violation resulted from an official policy or an unofficial custom." Torres v. Kuzniasz,936 F.Supp. 1201, 1206 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't. of Social ...


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