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Crystal Henry v. Police Officer Luis Centeno

August 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff has brought an action for excessive force, failure to provide medical care, and malicious prosecution. Defendants sought to enter a protective order preventing the public disclosure of certain "Confidential Matter" they anticipated would be produced during the course of discovery.*fn1 Defendants' proposed protective order defined "Confidential Matter" to include Complaint Register files ("CR files"), which are records of investigations into complaints of police misconduct. In an order dated June 10, 2011, Magistrate Judge Valdez granted in part and denied in part defendants' Motion for Entry of Protective Order. Relevant to the instant motion, Judge Valdez found no good cause for preventing the public disclosure of the CR files and ordered that they be excluded from the protective order. Defendants object to Magistrate Judge Valdez's ruling and request that the court vacate that order.*fn2 For the following reasons, that request is denied.


A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a magistrate judge's pretrial orders on non-dispositive matters, a district judge must "consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). It would appear that the "clearly erroneous" standard applies to the magistrate judge's factual determinations, and the "contrary to law" standard applies to the magistrate judge's legal determinations. Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D.Ohio 1992); see Fogel v. Chestnutt, 668 F.2d 100, 116 (2d Cir. 1981), cert. denied sub nom. Currier v. Fogel, 459 U.S. 828, (1982); Jernryd v. Nilsson, 117 F.R.D. 416, 417 (N.D.Ill.1987). Defendants urge that this court has "absolute discretion" to review Magistrate Judge Valdez's legal determinations.

Courts differ, however, as to what precisely the "contrary to law" language in Rule 72(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) requires. See Merritt v. International Broth. of Boilermakers, 649 F.2d 1013, 1017 (5th Cir. 1981) (non-dispositive orders are subject to the "'clearly erroneous and contrary to law' standard; they are not subject to a de novo determination as are a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations under § 636(b)(1)(B)"); but see Adolph Coors Co. v. Wallace, 570 F.Supp. 202, 205 (N.D.Calif. 1983) (under Rule 72(a), a court may "overturn any conclusions of law which contradict or ignore applicable precepts of law, as found in the Constitution, statutes or case precedent"). One court has found that an order is contrary to law under Rule 72(a) when it "fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure." Tompkins v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 92 F.Supp.2d 70, 74 (N.D.N.Y. 2000). The Tompkins court ultimately held that:

[W]hile authority may exist to support RJR's position, the more critical inquiry on appeal is whether authority exists to support Magistrate Judge DiBianco's decision. As the foregoing analysis illustrates, this Court cannot conclude that the magistrate judge failed to apply or misapplied relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure. Consequently, his order is not contrary to law.

Id. at 79 (internal citations omitted).

In a footnote in U.S. v. Frans, 697 F.2d 188, 193, n.10 (7th Cir. 1983), however, the Seventh Circuit found that the standards in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), at a minimum, "do not necessarily restrict" a district court from conducting a "full review" of a magistrate judge's findings. Given this discretion, and because Magistrate Judge Valdez's legal determinations informed her findings, the court will conduct a full review of the instant order. See Jernryd v. Nilsson, 117 F.R.D. 416, 416 (N.D.Ill. 1987) ("Because Magistrate Weisberg's order is based upon legal conclusions and not on his findings of fact, the clearly erroneous standard does not apply and the scope of our review on this motion is plenary.").

B. Legal Standards -- IFOIA and Federal Discovery Rules

In objecting to Magistrate Judge Valdez's order, defendants assert that the magistrate judge misinterpreted the Illinois Freedom of Information Act ("IFOIA")*fn3 which, defendants contend, controls the question before the court and "require[s] that CR files be included within the proposed protective order." This overstates the relevance of a state FOIA statute to a federal court's ruling on a question under federal discovery rules. "FOIA was not intended to supplement or displace rules of discovery." John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 153 (1989). More specifically, IFOIA does not control this court's determination as to whether "good cause" has been shown to subject CR files to a protective order. Johnson v. Kemps, No. 09 CV 4857, 2011 WL 2550507, at *2 (N.D.Ill. June 20, 2011); Calhoun v. City of Chicago, 273 F.R.D. 421, 423 (2011); Rangel v. City of Chicago, No. 10 C 2750, 2010 WL 3699991, at *2 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 13, 2010).

The interest at issue under FOIA is a statutorily created right of public access to certain information and the circumstances under which that right may be restrained, see 5 ILCS 140/1:

[I]t is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act.

Restraints on access to information, to the extent permitted by this Act, are limited exceptions to the principle that the people of this State have a right to full disclosure of information relating to the decisions, policies, procedures, rules, standards, and other aspects of government activity ...

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