Suffolk County must produce Emergency Phone Calls to litigants in Wrongful Death Case
The issue in this case is whether the county law prohibits the discovery of emergency phone calls, 911 tapes, in a civil litigation. Although a matter of first impression, the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) provides for discovery in civil litigation, here a wrongful death lawsuit.
Rule: Discovery is governed by CPLR Article 31. CPLR 3101 is, of course, to be liberally construed (see Allen v. Crowell-Collier Publ. Co., 21 NY2d 403, 406; Ferolito v. Arizona Beverages USA, LLC, 119 AD3d 642, 643), and the scope of discovery is left to the broad discretion of the trial court (see Karanikolas v. Elias Taverna, LLC, 128 AD3d 905; Conte v. County of Nassau, 87 AD3d 558).
T1: The Court of Claims denied the County's motion to quash; granted that branch of the claimant's motion which was to compel production of the 911 materials. T2: Affirmed
"This claim arises out of an incident that occurred when Arthur William Reece, Jr., drove his vehicle off of the roadway and traveled over the base of a traffic counting device. A pole that was supposed to be on top of the device was absent. The base shattered when Reece's vehicle came into contact with it and punctured the vehicle's gas tank, sparking a fire. Reece and two children, Kendra Anderson and Larissa Siege Reece, were trapped in the car and died in the fire. The claimant, as administrator of the estates of the children, commenced this claim against the State of New York…The claimant served a so-ordered subpoena upon the nonparty-appellant, County of Suffolk, for certified copies and transcripts of the 911 calls relating to the accident. The County moved to quash the subpoena on the ground that under County Law §308(4), 911 recordings and documents are not discoverable by any entity or person other than certain designated public agencies and emergency medical providers. The claimant opposed the motion and thereafter moved to compel discovery of, inter alia, the 911 tapes, arguing that they were discoverable under CPLR 3101 as material and relevant matter. Specifically, the claimant argued that the material may be expected to reveal why Reece's vehicle left the roadway, the length of time the vehicle's occupants experienced conscious pain and suffering, and the amount of time it took for police to respond to the scene." Pp. 1
The County Law at issue is contained within Article 6; titled "Enhanced Emergency Telephone System Surcharge" (see County Law §§300-309), County Law §308(4) provides that:
"Records, in whatever form they may be kept, of calls made to a municipality's E 911 system shall not be made available to or obtained by any entity or person, other than that municipality's public safety agency, another government agency or body, or a private entity or person providing medical ambulance or other emergency services, and shall not be utilized for any commercial purpose other than the provision of emergency services."
The Court here concluded that "the matter sought by the claimant in the subpoena duces tecum is material and relevant to the issues involved in this claim." Pp. 2.The Court saw "the language of County Law §308(4), [the County Law at issue here,] as generally prohibiting entities and private individuals from accessing 911 tapes and records…However, the statute is not intended to prohibit the disclosure of matter that is material and relevant in a civil litigation, accessible by a so-ordered subpoena or directed by a court to be disclosed in a discovery order." Id. (citations omitted). In sum, the Court orders the production of such material Id. (citations omitted).
The Case is Anderson v. NYS, 119385, NYLJ 1202746258888, at 1 (App. Div., 2nd, Decided December 30, 2015) (available at: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202746258888/Anderson-v-State-of-New-York-119385#ixzz3wO5k7EO0).