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Todd v. Hatin

United States District Court, D. Vermont

October 24, 2014

LOGAN TODD, Plaintiff,
v.
CHUCK HATIN, ANDREW PALLITO, WADE JOHNSON, and RICHARD BYRNE, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM K. SESSIONS, III, District Judge.

Plaintiff Logan Todd brings this action claiming that Defendants violated his rights by causing his unlawful confinement. On a prior motion the Court dismissed Todd's Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim. Now pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment on Todd's Eighth Amendment claim. Defendant Andrew Pallito, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections ("DOC"), also filed a motion for a protective order.

For the reasons set forth below, Pallito's Motion for a Protective Order is GRANTED; Pallito's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED; the remaining Defendants' Summary Judgment Motions are DENIED; and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. Defendant Pallito's Motion for a Protective Order

Defendant Pallito has filed a Motion for a Protective Order to restrict Plaintiff from taking his deposition. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), a party may move for a protective order to forbid the disclosure of discovery "to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1).

The Second Circuit recently applied this rule to shield high-ranking government officials from being deposed. Lederman v. New York City Dep't of Parks & Recreation, 731 F.3d 199, 203 (2d Cir. 2013) cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 1510 , 188 L.Ed.2d 376 (2014). In order to depose such officials under Lederman, "a party must demonstrate exceptional circumstances justifying the deposition - for example, that the official has unique first-hand knowledge related to the litigated claims or that the necessary information cannot be obtained through other, less burdensome or intrusive means." Id. This general rule of protection has been set out because high-ranking officials have "greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses." Id. (citing In re United States (Kessler), 985 F.2d 510, 512 (11th Cir. 1993)). Other courts in the Second Circuit have applied a two-pronged test allowing high level government officials to be deposed only where: (1) the information sought is "not available from any other source" and (2) the deposition does "not hinder the official's ability to perform his or her duties." Adler v. Pataki, 96-CV-1950, 2001 WL 1708801, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 13, 2001); see also Marisol A. v. Giuliani, No. 95 CIV. 10533, 1998 WL 132810, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 1998); Martin v. Valley Nat'l Bank, 140 F.R.D. 291, 314 (S.D.N.Y. 1991).

Plaintiff does not dispute that Pallito is a "high level government official, " but argues that the deposition should nevertheless be permitted "to discover the roots of [the DOC's] culture of callous indifference and find out why so many of [Pallito's] subordinates felt comfortable leaving Plaintiff in prison based on a mistake that they were aware of." Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Prot. Ord. at 4.

Even if a culture of indifference did exist in the DOC, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate that Pallito would have "unique first-hand knowledge" of such a culture, or that deposing Pallito would be the only way for Plaintiff to access such information. Plaintiff also fails to demonstrate that Pallito had any "unique first-hand knowledge" of Todd's case. In fact, Pallito stated in an affidavit that he had minimal involvement in the case and that he does not "recall any unique personal involvement or knowledge concerning Plaintiff or his imprisonment." Defs.' Mot. for Prot. Order Ex. 1, ΒΆ 3. Defendant notes that the information sought by Plaintiff may be obtained by less intrusive means, including through written discovery or by deposing less senior DOC officers. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff does not contest this.

Plaintiff argues that high level government officials should be held accountable for constitutional violations as a matter of public policy. While this may be good policy, granting the protective order will not thwart such accountability. Other avenues remain for Plaintiff to gather evidence in making his case.

"[H]igh-ranking government officials are generally shielded from depositions." Lederman, 731 F.3d at 203. Because Plaintiff has not shown any exceptions under which the Court should set aside this rule, the Motion for a Protective Order is GRANTED.

II. Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment

A. Standard of Review

Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim. Summary judgment is granted when the "movant shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). If the movant does this successfully the burden shifts, requiring the opposing party to "offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful." D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998). Summary judgment is granted only when "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party." Donnelly v. Greenburgh Cent. Sch. Dist. No. 7, 691 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion the Court must not "weigh the evidence or resolve the issues of fact, " but rather must determine "whether, after resolving all the ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational juror could find in favor of that party." City of Burlington v. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Ins. Co., 190 F.Supp.2d 663, 669 (D. Vt. 2002) (citing Pinto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir. 2000)). When parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, "each party's motion must be examined on its own merits, with any inferences ...


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