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Hoban v. Sprague

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 17, 2019

TYSON HOBAN, Plaintiff,
KEVIN SPRAGUE, et al., Defendants.



         I. Background

         Plaintiff Tyson Hoban alleges that he was beaten in Flint City LockUp, operated by the Genesee County Sheriff Department, in violation of his Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment. Complaint, ECF No. 1. His Complaint also includes a count seeking damages for assault and battery under Michigan law. Id.

         The incident giving rise to this lawsuit took place on June 2, 2018. While Plaintiff was booked into the jail after his arrest, Defendants allegedly pushed Plaintiff to the ground, pinned him down, sprayed him with pepper spray, and punched him repeatedly. Id. at PageID.5. Plaintiff admits that he used offensive language but maintains that he was not acting in a physically aggressive manner. Id. Plaintiff claims that he suffered serious injuries that Defendants delayed seeking medical attention for him for an hour and twenty-five minutes. Id.

         In discovery, Plaintiff seeks production of the internal investigation report that the Genesee County Sheriff's Department completed in response to the incident. This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Quash Plaintiff's Subpoena. ECF No. 17. The Court ordered Defendants to submit the report for in camera review, ECF No. 29, which they did on June 14, 2019.

         II. Analysis

         As an initial matter, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b). Because “mutual knowledge of all the relevant facts gathered by both parties is essential to proper litigation, ” the discovery rules “are to be accorded a broad and liberal treatment.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947); see also Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104, 114-115 (1964) (citing Hickman). Defendants raise two arguments in support of their position that the Court should grant them an exemption from liberally-construed discovery rules.

         First, Defendants argue that public policy favors keeping their internal investigation confidential. And second, they argue that the report is privileged pursuant to the deliberative process privilege. The Court addresses each argument below.

         a. Public policy arguments cannot overcome the presumption in favor of broad discovery.

         Defendants rely on two central cases for their argument that public policy concerns support their position that the internal investigation report should be protected from public disclosure. First, they cite Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967), a case in which the Supreme Court held that police officers' statements taken during an investigation could not be used against them in a subsequent criminal trial because the officers were told that they would be fired if they refused to answer questions. The Supreme Court determined that use of these statements violated the officers' Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Defendants concede that Garrity does not control the outcome of this motion but argue that the same principles underlying Garrity warrant quashing the subpoena. The Court disagrees. Garrity rests on the principle of the Fifth Amendment's right not to be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against oneself. The rule in Garrity protects that right by preventing statements given during internal investigations from being used in any subsequent criminal cases. In a civil case, there is no criminal penalty at issue. A witness may choose not to testify in a civil case by invoking the Fifth Amendment, although the jury may draw an adverse inference from such an invocation that the testimony would be unfavorable. Defendants mischaracterize Garrity when they interpret it as “afford[ing] protections in order to encourage cooperation within an internal investigation.” ECF No. 17 PageID.123. Garrity affords protections in criminal prosecutions in order not to violate the Constitution.

         Second, Defendants cite a Michigan Supreme Court case exempting a police department's internal investigation report from disclosure pursuant to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (MFOIA). Kent Cnty Depute Sheriff's Ass'n v. Kent Cnty Sheriff, 463 Mich. 353 (2000). The Michigan Supreme Court interpreted a provision in MFOIA allowing a public body to exempt personnel records of law enforcement agencies from disclosure “[u]nless the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure in the particular instance.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.243. In applying this balancing test, the Michigan court found that public interest favors nondisclosure, reasoning that disclosure of the report would make it more difficult for the police department to convince officers to participate in future investigations. Kent Cnty, 463 Mich. at 365.

         Decisions of a state court interpreting state law do not bind this Court. And Defendants' argument that public policy requires that they be able to withhold otherwise relevant discovery does not appear to be grounded in any federal rule. Moreover, the balancing test that Michigan courts use to determine whether documents are exempted from production under MFOIA cannot cleanly apply here, because the instant matter relates to discovery, not public disclosure-Plaintiff has offered to stipulate to a protective order prohibiting public disclosure of the report. The interests at stake in producing clearly relevant evidence to the other side in a civil action are different from those involved when a citizen is seeking public disclosure of internal government documents. But even if we were to apply the MFOIA exemption rule to the facts of this case, the Court cannot conclude that the benefits to the public of nondisclosure outweigh the benefits of disclosure in this case.

         Plaintiff seeks materials that include transcripts of the interviews of the officers who were involved in the altercation with Plaintiff, taken shortly after the incident occurred. Disclosure of such material constitutes a benefit to the public that outweighs the concern of Defendants that, in the future, officers may not be willing to participate in internal investigations. While employees may not want to participate in internal investigations that could eventually become public, employers frequently require employees to do things that they may not necessarily wish to do-particularly when they involve investigations of possible misconduct by those employees.

         A rule guaranteeing that the results of internal investigations should permanently remain shrouded in secrecy does not protect the public. It is possible, as Defendants argue, that guaranteed secrecy might make officers feel more comfortable answering questions truthfully, even if that truth is embarrassing or inculpating. But the Court is unwilling to assume that employees would be untruthful if made aware that their answers may become known to the public-and making decisions based ...

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