Sometimes More is Less– Prisoner’s Subpoena is Quashed for Overbreadth (NY)

The Western District of NY recently quashed an inmate’s subpoena of two non-party witnesses in Cooper v. Hillin an attempt to obtain documentation of his own whereabouts during and after a prison riot.  The Court quashed his subpoena, finding his request was overbroad, seeking propensity evidence.

Cooper arose in 2012 when an inmate sued corrections officers and the Five Points Correctional Facility for assault, and for failing to provide him with medical treatment.  Cooper claims to have been assaulted by several corrections officers both during a prison riot in the recreational yard and a few hours later, in the prison showers.

During discovery, the Defendants’ incomplete documentation left a “gap” with regard to Cooper’s whereabouts for six hours after the prison riot ended including medical treatment records of that day.

In an attempt to clarify where Cooper was in the hours after the riot, Cooper subpoenaed documents including log sheets, grievance records, documents resulting from the intimate riot and “all internal investigations that occurred.”  The Correctional Facility moved to quash, citing that compliance with the subpoena would require thousands of documents, as the subpoenas also included phrases like “all documents from any person.”

The Court found the subpoena relevant, but nevertheless quashed it because it sought production of materials that did not pertain directly to Cooper’s whereabouts, and was out of proportion to their usefulness to Cooper’s claims.

The Court’s ruling demonstrates the extreme importance of properly tailoring subpoenas and  discovery requests in general.  In the event a subpoena results in motion practice, a properly tailored subpoena is much easier to defend before the court.  Thanks to Patrick Burns for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.