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October 09, 2014

Student records sought in the course of a disciplinary action must be relevant to the defense of the accused and a factual basis establishing their relevance must be demonstrated


Student records sought in the course of a disciplinary action must be relevant to the defense of the accused and a factual basis establishing their relevance must be demonstrated
Watertown City Sch. Dist. v Anonymous, A Tenured Teacher, 2014 NY Slip Op 06444, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The Watertown City School District [WCSD] initiated a proceeding in Supreme Court seeking an order quashing a subpoena duces tecum served on it by Anonymous, a tenured teacher, in the course of an administrative disciplinary action initiated against Anonymous pursuant to Education Law §3020-a. Anonymous cross-moved to compel WCSD to comply with the subpoena duces tecum.

Supreme Court granted the cross-motion filed by Anonymous and WCSD appealed.

The §3020-a Hearing Officer had issued a subpoena duces tecum in response to Anonymous’ request for production of the records of students testifying in the disciplinary action notwithstanding relevant provision of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA).

Although §3020-a hearing officers have the authority to order the production of student records that are material and relevant to accused employee's defense,* the Appellate Division noted that it is well established that, "[g]enerally, a subpoena duces tecum may not be used for the purpose of discovery or to ascertain the existence of evidence" the petition and granting the cross motion.”

Citing Matter of N. v Novello, 13 AD3d 631, the Appellate Division explained that where, as here, "the relevance of the subpoena is challenged, it is incumbent upon the issuer to come forward with a factual basis establishing the relevance of the documents sought to the investigation" to show "that the material sought bears a reasonable relation to the matter under investigation.”

In this instance the Appellate Division found that the allegations of misconduct filed against Anonymous involved activities outside of the classroom and Anonymous stated only generally that the students' records were "highly relevant" in asserting a defense and that the records are "necessary and relevant to the preparation of a defense to the charges on its face."

The court found that Anonymous failed to indicate how the records were reasonably related to Anonymous’ defense nor did Anonymous present a factual basis establishing their relevance. Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that Supreme Court had “abused its discretion in refusing to quash the subpoena duces tecum” served on WCSD.

It unanimously reversed, on the law, Supreme Court’s ruling and granted WCSD’s petition to quash.the subpoena duces tecum issued by the Hearing Officer.

* See Education Law §3020-a [3] [c] [iii] [A], [C].

The decision is posted on the Internet

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