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District of South Dakota Denies Motion to Quash Subpoena in Excessive Force Civil Suit

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Posted on June 24th, 2016

In AMISI v. Melick, et. al., Case No. 15-04083 (D. S.D., June 3, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants for injuries incurred when Defendant Melick (an employee of Defendant SuTran) allegedly used excessive force in breaking up a fight between a third party and Plaintiff, who was a minor at the time and who asserts that she was the victim in the fight. Prior to his employment with SuTran, Defendant Melick worked for the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Between these two jobs, he worked in sales, process service, repossessions, bus driving and security jobs. When Melick got the job at SuTran, SuTran did not request his personnel file from the Highway Patrol.

Plaintiff subpoenaed Highway Patrol for a copy of Melick’s personnel file; Defendants filed a motion to quash. The motion was denied as moot when the parties reached an agreement. Defendants then provided some information about Melick. Defendants also agreed to produce certain records from the personnel file but not the entire file. Later, Plaintiff subpoenaed Defendants again for that information, and Defendants filed a motion to quash, arguing that the information sought was too remote in time to be relevant and that the request was overbroad. Defendants also argued that Plaintiff was estopped from obtaining the whole file, because she accepted a partial file on two different occasions.

Plaintiff argued that the file may be relevant because it may show any indicators that Melick was a bad candidate for the position, or it may go to whether he required special training or supervision. Plaintiff averred that she believed the file would show that Melick tried to shoot his neighbor’s dog with his service weapon and that the Highway Patrol either fired Melick or asked him to resign for improper actions.

The court looked at the burdens of proof for each of Plaintiff’s claims and found the documents sought to be relevant to the claims. The court also found that the subpoena was not overly broad, as it did not seek thousands of pages of documents, nor did it require excessive time to compile and copy the information. The court also found that the characterization of the information sought as being sensitive and confidential information was not sufficient basis by itself to quash the subpoena, especially given the added assurance of the existing protective order.  The court also found that Plaintiff was not estopped from seeking the complete file after having received partial file information previously. As a result, the court denied Defendant’s motion to quash.

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