Judge Sweet denied last week the City of New York’s request to unseal 850,000 criminal court records for putative class members in a civil rights class action against the City. The complaint, originally filed in 2010, alleges that the City of New York and the NYPD violated the class members’ civil rights by requiring officers to meet minimum quotas of summonses issued regardless of whether a crime had occurred or probable cause existed. The records were sealed pursuant to a privilege codified in New York’s Penal Law. The City argued that the records should be unsealed so that defendants could identify potential class members and then seek discovery from them in order to challenge class membership.
Judge Sweet found that the privacy interests for the absent class members far outweighed the City’s request on the eve of the close of discovery:
Here, the City initially conceded that it sought to unseal the records “in order to challenge class membership;” although it later averred that the records would be used to defend against allegations of a pattern and practice. The Defendants nonetheless maintain that the unsealing motion is a stepping-stone on the road to discovery geared towards challenging individuals’ class membership . . . . [o]utside of a conclusory assertion that the City would be “severely prejudiced” if it is not given access to the records at issue, Defendants make no showing as to the necessity of unsealing these 850,000 records to defend against the pattern and practice allegations . . . . Its need for the information sought is unsufficient to outweigh the privacy interests at issue and the deference accorded to state-create privileges.