Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wright v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 21, 2017

ANTHONY WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GENE E.K. PRATTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Mr. Wright sued the City of Philadelphia and a number of its former police department employees for constitutional violations arising out of his 1991 arrest, 1993 prosecution, and 25-year imprisonment for a rape and murder he did not commit. In 2016 a jury acquitted Mr. Wright of the rape and murder after a retrial that included DNA evidence not available at his initial trial.[1] The dispute currently before the Court centers on whether Mr. Wright and his attorneys have complied with their obligations under this case's governing Confidentiality Agreement to use reasonable efforts to retrieve documents Defendants designated as confidential three months after the documents were produced to Mr. Wright. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office's Motion to Enforce.

         II. Background and Procedural History

         Mr. Wright initiated this lawsuit on September 20, 2016 by filing a complaint asserting, among other claims, a claim for municipal liability pursuant to Monell v. City of New York Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). In March 2017, the Court entered a Confidentiality Agreement to which Mr. Wright, Defendants, and nonparty the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (“DAO”) were signatories. The Confidentiality Agreement covered topics including (i) the procedures for designating information as confidential, (ii) who the parties could disclose confidential information to and under what circumstances, and (iii) the procedures for designating information as confidential after a party inadvertently produced or disclosed confidential information. The Confidentiality Agreement applied retroactively to all documents produced on or after February 3, 2017.

         Mr. Wright served a set of discovery requests on Defendants in December 2016, which included a request for the production of Homicide Unit and Internal Affairs Division files (the “Homicide Files”) covering eight homicide investigations. While the Homicide Files do not relate to the investigation into Mr. Wright, they do cover investigations in which named defendants in this case participated. Defendants, in consultation with the DAO, produced six of the requested files in March 2017. Defendants did not mark the produced Homicide Files confidential.

         After receiving the Homicide Files, Mr. Wright's counsel shared a subset of the Homicide Files with counsel for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. The Innocence Project represents certain of the criminal defendants-who are the subjects of the Homicide Files-in connection with those criminal defendants' pending or prospective post-conviction proceedings in Pennsylvania state court. Mr. Wright's counsel shared the Homicide Files with the Innocence Project, who had a more complete understanding of its clients' cases, to assess the relevance of the Homicide Files to Mr. Wright's Monell claim.

         After reviewing the Homicide Files, the Innocence Project made a determination that the files contain exculpatory evidence that had not previously been disclosed to its clients. The Innocence Project then informed the DAO in June 2017 that it was in possession of exculpatory evidence that had not previously been disclosed to its clients and requested that the DAO's Conviction Review Unit open an investigation into their clients' cases. Two days later, defense counsel in this litigation contacted Mr. Wright's counsel and (i) designated the Homicide Files as confidential pursuant to Paragraph 8 of the Confidentiality Agreement, which deals with inadvertent disclosures, and (ii) requested that Mr. Wright's counsel retrieve the Homicide Files from any third parties to whom the files were disclosed.

         Mr. Wright, Defendants, the DAO, and the Innocence Project met and conferred in good faith to resolve the dispute over Defendants' confidentiality designation and request that Mr. Wright's counsel retrieve all copies of the Homicide Files that had been disseminated. Unable to resolve their dispute, Mr. Wright filed a Motion to Strike Defendants' confidentiality designation. The Court subsequently granted the Innocence Project's Motion to Intervene for the limited purpose of being heard on Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and the DAO's Motion to Intervene for the limited purposes of (i) presenting argument concerning enforcement of the Confidentiality Agreement, and (ii) being heard on Plaintiff's Motion to Strike. The Innocence Project then filed its own Motion to Strike Defendants' confidentiality designation and the DAO filed a Motion to Enforce the Confidentiality Agreement.[2]

         III. Discussion

         The DAO ultimately seeks to prevent what has already been done. Criminal defendants represented by the Innocence Project obtained discovery concerning their respective criminal cases through the civil discovery process in this § 1983 action. The Innocence Project has since used that discovery to file or amend Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”) petitions on behalf of its clients. The DAO decries how this alleged end run around the more restrictive discovery rules governing PCRA petitions threatens to disrupt traditional notions of federal-state comity and Congress's intent that state court post-conviction petitioners exhaust state remedies before resorting to federal court. Yet, the DAO does not-and cannot-deny crucial facts underpinning the current dispute: (i) the Homicide Files were not designated as confidential when produced by Defendants or shared with the Innocence project, and (ii) no law, Court order, or statutory provision restricted Mr. Wright's ability to share non-confidential discovery with recipients of his choice and for his chosen reason. Accord Jepson, Inc. v. Makita Elec. Works, Ltd., 30 F.3d 854, 858 (7th Cir. 1994) (“Absent a protective order, parties to a law suit may disseminate materials obtained during discovery as they see fit.”). Accordingly, the present dispute does not implicate notions of federal-state comity, [3] but is rather focused on one simple question. Have Mr. Wright and his counsel fulfilled their obligations under the Confidentiality Agreement?

         Paragraph 8 of the Confidentiality Agreement states, in relevant part:

If a party or the DAO inadvertently produces or discloses confidential information, including deposition testimony, without marking it “Confidential” or “Confidential - Attorney Only, ” the producing party or the DAO may subsequently designate the document or information as “Confidential” or “Confidential - Attorney Only.” However, until such time that a designation is made, the document or information shall not be covered by this “Confidentiality Agreement.” Thereafter, such information shall be treated as designated by the producing party or the DAO. When undesignated documents are produced, and are later designated as “Confidential” or “Confidential - Attorney Only, ” and the party or parties to whom such undesignated documents were produced shall use reasonable efforts to retrieve said documents from any and all individuals to whom it has disclosed and/or produced them.

         Confidentiality Agreement ¶ 8, Doc. No. 44 (emphasis added). By the plain language of the Confidentiality Agreement, once Defendants designated the Homicide Files as confidential, Mr. Wright and his counsel were obligated to “use reasonable efforts to retrieve” the Homicide Files from ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.