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Nathson Fields v. City of Chicago

December 26, 2012

NATHSON FIELDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

REVISED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Nathson Fields has moved for an order to show cause why defendant City of Chicago should not be held in contempt or otherwise sanctioned for its failure to provide proper answers to certain interrogatories that Fields served and for other actions relating to the subject of those interrogatories.

Withdrawal of October 15, 2012 decision regarding sanctions

The Court granted Fields' motion in a decision that it issued on October 15, 2012 and sanctioned the City by, among other things, requiring it to pay Fields' attorney's fees and expenses relating to various tasks. Later, in considering Fields' fee submission, the Court became concerned that it had erred on certain points in the October 15 decision and issued the following order:

The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions regarding plaintiff's request for attorney's fees in connection with the Court's 10/15/12 sanctions order. The amount of plaintiff's request (nearly $25,000) led the Court to re-examine the course of the pertinent events and, ultimately, to take another look at defendant's motion to reconsider, which the Court denied last week. The Court now believes that reconsideration of some (though not all) aspects of the sanctions order may be appropriate. Counsel should be prepared to discuss the motion for reconsideration at the 11/14/12 status hearing. They should also be prepared to discuss the further answers to interrogatories 4 and 5 ordered by the Court in the 10/15/12 order.

Order of Nov. 11, 2012 (dkt. no. 305).

The Court now withdraws its October 15 decision, which is also found at 2012 WL 4892389, and issues the following decision in its place.

Background

Fields alleges in this case that the defendants wrongfully caused him to be prosecuted for murder and in doing so violated his constitutional rights. During the course of discovery, specifically in September 2011, the City produced about ninety pages of documents concerning the investigation of the underlying crimes. Fields says these documents were never produced during his criminal prosecution.

Fields served two interrogatories that sought further information regarding these documents.*fn1 These interrogatories (numbers 4 and 5) asked for the whereabouts of the documents from 1984, when the murders occurred, to September 2011, and who had custody of the documents. In response, the City objected to the interrogatories on various grounds, provided a laundry list of persons who handled documents relating to the murders, and identified the current location of the originals. Fields moved to compel a more complete response, and in April 2012, the Court ordered the City to answer the interrogatories fully. See Dkt. No. 214 (order of Apr. 10, 2012).

In the City's amended responses, it again objected to the interrogatories; again identified the current location of the originals; and stated that it was "unable to determine the chronological chain of custody at this time . . . ." Around the same time, the City also responded to two follow-up interrogatories that Fields had served. One of these (interrogatory 7) asked why the documents produced in September 2011 had not been produced to Fields during his criminal prosecution. The City objected that the interrogatory "assume[d] facts not in evidence" and called for speculation but also responded that it lacked sufficient information to state whether the documents had been provided to Fields before 2011.

Each of the City's answers to the pertinent interrogatories was verified for the City by Sergeant Robert Flores of the police department's office of legal affairs. Flores' verification stated that certain of the matters in the interrogatories were not within his personal knowledge; there was no employee of the City who had personal knowledge of everything required to provide answers; and the answers were based on information "assembled by authorized employees and counsel of the City of Chicago."

On May 7, 2012, Fields took Flores' deposition to learn the information on which he had relied in answering the pertinent interrogatories. Flores testified that he had not performed any investigation to establish the chain of custody of the files in question but instead had relied entirely on conversations he had with Daniel Noland, an attorney for the City, and a City paralegal, Mary Beth Majka. Noland, who appeared at the deposition, directed Flores not to answer questions about the information he and Majka had provided to Flores, citing the attorney-client and work product privileges.

On May 11, 2012, Fields moved for an order to show cause and for sanctions. In the motion, Fields' counsel stated that Noland had advised her that "he had himself taken on the personal responsibility of trying to track the whereabouts of the missing street file over the past 28 years." In the motion, Fields sought leave to take the depositions of Noland and Majka regarding the chain of custody of the documents and how they had been located, as well as an order barring them from asserting the attorney-client or work ...


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