United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
DEBORAH ZIELINSKI, individually and as trustee for next-of-kin of ROBERT ZIELINSKI, deceased, Plaintiff,
MEGA MANUFACTURING, INC., et al., Defendants.
D. WOLSON, J.
Rules of Civil Procedure 26 and 45 are federal statutes that
govern, among other things, the scope of discovery that
parties in a case can obtain from third parties.
Pennsylvania's Criminal History Record Information Act
("CHRIA") requires confidentiality of certain
investigatory materials. The question for this Court is
whether and to what extent CHRIA protects documents in Falls
Township's possession from disclosure in discovery in
this case. The answer: not at all, for two reasons.
Falls Township has not shown with sufficient specificity that
any document at issue is subject to CHRIA. Second, even if
the Township were to make such a showing, it would not matter
because CHRIA, as a state statute, must yield to federal law.
However, the Court recognizes that Pennsylvania's General
Assembly has expressed an interest in maintaining the
confidentiality of documents that fall within CHRIA's
scope. Accordingly, the Court will exercise its discretion
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) to impose
limitations on the use and dissemination of materials that
the Township will produce and that fall within CHRIA's
October 6, 2017, Robert Zielinski was working in a steel
fabrication and manufacturing plant when sheets of steel fell
on him. He died shortly thereafter. Robert's wife,
Deborah, filed this action on November 21, 2018, individually
and as trustee for Robert's next-of-kin. In her
Complaint, Deborah asserts claims against the manufacturer of
the machine on which Robert was working when he was injured,
the installer of the machine, and the manufacturer of a
scissor lift table that Robert had used to store the metal
sheets. She brings claims for wrongful death, a survival
action, strict products liability, and negligence.
October 25, 2019, Econo Lift, the manufacturer of the scissor
lift table, served a third-party subpoena on the Falls
Township Police Department, seeking "all accident or
incident reports, including the investigative report,"
concerning the accident at the steel plant. On November 5,
2019, Falls Township filed a Motion for a Protective Order
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), seeking an
order from the Court stating that the Police Department does
not have to produce the investigatory information sought in
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "any person from
whom discovery is sought may move for a protective order in
the court where the action is pending" to prevent the
disclosure of requested discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). The
court may enter such an order upon a showing of good cause by
the movant. Id.; see also Pansy v. Borough of
Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 786 (3d Cir. 1994) ("[I]t
is well-established that a party wishing to obtain an order
of protection over discovery material must demonstrate that
'good cause' exists ...."). '"Good
cause is established on a showing that disclosure will work a
clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking
closure. The injury must be shown with specificity.'
'Broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific
examples or articulated reasoning,' do not support a good
cause showing." Pansy, 23 F.3d at 786
(quotations and citation omitted). The party seeking a
protective order has "[t]he burden of justifying the
confidentiality of each and every document sought to be
covered by a protective order ...." Id. at
786-87 (citation omitted).
Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits parties to
"obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter
that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and
proportional to the needs of the case . . . ." Moreover,
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 permits discovery from
third parties that is within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1),
subject to certain requirements that the party issuing a
subpoena be mindful of the burden placed on a third party.
See In re Novartis and Par Antitrust Litig., No.
19-mc-00149, 2019 WL 5722055, at * 4 (E.D. Pa Nov. 5, 2019).
Here, there is no dispute that the documents that Econo Lift
has requested in its subpoena fall within the scope of Rule
however, prohibits Pennsylvania criminal justice agencies
like the Falls Township Police Department from disseminating
investigative information to the public. 18 Pa. C.S.A. §
9106(c)(4); Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 161
A.3d 877, 895 (Pa. 2017). Investigative information is
"[i]nformation assembled as a result of the performance
of any inquiry, formal or informal, into a criminal incident
or an allegation of criminal wrongdoing . ..." 18 Pa.
C.S.A. § 9102. The tension between these various
provisions gives rise to this dispute.
Falls Township's Motion Lacks Specificity.
does not apply to every document in a police department's
files. For example, where a law enforcement agency gathers
documents that "do not involve criminal activity, and
may ultimately be used in civil proceedings, administrative
enforcement and disciplinary actions[, ]" CHRIA does not
apply. Pa. State Police v. Grove, 161 A.3d 877, 895
(Pa. 2017). Indeed, "[t]he mere fact that a record has
some connection to a criminal proceeding does not
automatically exempt it under ... CHRIA[, ]" and the
Township has not alleged that the records, whatever they may
be, were "created to report on a criminal investigation
or set forth or document evidence in a criminal investigation
or steps carried out in a criminal investigation."
Pa. State Police v. Grove, 119 A.3d 1102, 1108 (Pa.
Commw. Ct. 2015), aff'd in part, rev'din
part, 161 A.3d 877 (Pa. 2017). Instead, "CHRIA
protects information based on the circumstances under which
it was gathered. Information obtained as a result of an
investigation into criminal activity is protected.
Information gathered as a result of a different inquiry or
for a different reason is not protected." In re
Subpoenas in Case of Mielcarz v. Pietzsch, No. 119 EDA
2017, 2018 WL 3113916, at *6 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 22, 2018).
Thus, in order to satisfy its burden under Rule 26(c), the
Township would have to show that CHRIA applies to the
documents at issue.
Motion, the Township does not specify what responsive
documents it has in its possession, let alone try to explain
why those documents fall within CHRIA's scope. Instead,
the Township asserts "[u]pon information and belief that
Econo Lift "is seeking police investigatory information
relative to an ongoing criminal matter." (ECF No. 34,
¶ 4.) It then reiterates its assertion that the
"information sought in the instant case is investigative
information." (Id. at ¶ 12.) These bald
assertions are not enough to satisfy the Township's
burden. The Court is particularly troubled by the
Township's assertion based on "information and
belief that the records at issue relate to an ongoing
criminal matter. The Township-and only the
Township- is in a position to know for certain
whether such an ...