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Victor v. Lawler

February 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

(Judge Nealon)

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)



This case is one of two prisoner civil rights lawsuits currently lodged by the plaintiff, William Victor, against correctional staff at SCI Huntingdon. See Victor, et al. v. Lawler, et al., No. 3:07-CV-2058 and Victor v. Lawler, et al., No. 3:08-CV-1374. In this initial lawsuit, Victor, et al. v. Lawler, et al., No. 3:07-CV-2058, Victor and another inmate-plaintiff, Demetrius Bailey, leveled a series of allegations against correctional staff during a time period which spans through November 2007. In the second lawsuit, Victor v. Lawler, et al., No. 3:08-CV-1374, Victor alleges, inter alia, that he was the victim of staff assaults in May and June 2008, after the filing of his first lawsuit.

Both of these cases have been referred to the undersigned for pre-trial management. In connection with the pre-trial management of these two cases, we are addressing various pending motions filed in both cases, and using this opportunity to attempt to provide clarity regarding the properly framed issues in these two cases.

With respect to the plaintiff's second case, Victor. v. Lawler, et al., No. 3:08-1374, currently there is a fully briefed motion by Victor for sanctions, for other relief related to alleged spoliation of evidence, and to compel production of materials. (Doc. 169) A review of the motion, (Doc. 169 ), accompanying briefs, (Doc. 183), and the defendants' response in opposition to this motion (Doc. 177), reveals that this motion relates to three categories of evidence pertaining to Victor's claims that his constitutional rights were violated when he was allegedly subjected to physical assaults by prison staff in May and June, 2008. Each of these three categories of evidence is discussed separately below:

A. Disclosure of Pre-Disciplinary Conference Records

First, Victor's pleadings note, without objection or contradiction by the defendants, that the June 2008 assault on him was the subject of disciplinary proceedings conducted by the Department of Corrections. Victor also observes that this assault was the subject of a separate inquiry by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) which he alleges made a criminal referral to a district attorney's office as a result of its review of the facts surrounding this institutional assault. After noting that he had previously sought OPR records relating to the investigation of this assault, in his current motion Victor now seeks unredacted copies of the Department of Corrections pre-disciplinary conference records relating to the corrections defendants who were allegedly the subject of internal agency disciplinary inquiries as a result of their alleged involvement in this incident. (Doc. 169)

In response to this particular request the defendants have offered to provide Victor an opportunity to review redacted copies of these employee pre-disciplinary conference records., (Doc. 177), but have asserted that "personal information" and agency conclusions and recommendations should be redacted from these documents. (Id.) According to the defendants, the approach which the defendants is proposing the Court take with respect to pre-disciplinary records mirrors the approach previously taken by the Court in this litigation with respect to an OPR investigative report relating to this alleged assault. (Docs. 92, 119.)

We agree that the release of redacted materials, which delete personal information, such as social security numbers, as well as agency conclusions and recommendations is the appropriate course to take in this matter. In this regard we note that this was the course followed previously in this litigation. (Docs. 92, 119.) Moreover, we find that the deletion of personal information from these records is necessary, appropriate and consistent with prior case law. See Paluch v. Dawson, No. 06-1751, 2007 WL 4375937 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2007).

We also conclude that adopting this course is consistent with settled case law addressing claims of governmental privilege relating to investigative records which acknowledges a governmental privilege but recognizes that courts must balance the confidentiality of governmental files against the rights of a civil rights litigant by considering:

(1) the extent to which disclosure will thwart governmental processes by discouraging citizens from giving the government information; (2) the impact upon persons who have given information of having their identities disclosed; (3) the degree to which governmental self-evaluation and consequent program improvement will be chilled by disclosure; (4) whether the information sought is factual data or evaluative summary; (5) whether the party seeking the discovery is an actual or potential defendant in any criminal proceeding either pending or reasonably likely to follow from the incident in question; (6) whether the police investigation has been completed; (7) whether any intra-departmental disciplinary proceedings have arisen or may arise from the investigation; (8) whether the plaintiffs suit is non-frivolous and brought in good faith; (9) whether the information sought is available through other discovery or from other sources; and, (10) the importance of the information sought to the plaintiffs case.

Frankenhauser v. Rizzo, 59 F.R.D. 339, 344 (E.D. Pa. 1973). When striking this balance courts have, in the past, reconciled the competing needs of civil rights litigants for information regarding facts developed in official investigations, with the Government's need to protect its deliberative processes, by directing the release of non-privileged, factual information in a report to the plaintiff. For example, in Sullivan v. Pa. Dep't of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19216, *1-2 (M.D. Pa. 2007) (McClure, J.), the Court limited discovery of a report regarding an investigation by the OPR concerning allegations made by two former prison psychologists, ...

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