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Heagney v. Wong

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 18, 2016

SCOTT L. HEAGNEY, Plaintiff,
LISA A. WONG, et. al, Defendants.



         By Order of Reference dated December 22, 2015, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (Docket #33), this matter was referred to me for a ruling on Plaintiff Scott L. Heagney’s Motion for a Protective Order (Docket #30). Defendants Lisa A. Wong and the City of Fitchburg (the “City Defendants”) have filed a response. (Docket #36). A hearing was held on the motion on May 13, 2016. This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for a Protection Order is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Heagney’s application for the position of Chief of Police for the City of Fitchburg in 2013. (Compl. at ¶¶ 1, 25).[1] At the time of his application, Heagney was the Resident Agent-in-Charge of the Rochester, New York Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”). (Id. at ¶ 14). The City Defendants assert that, on his application, Heagney indicated that his only prior law enforcement employment, apart from the ATF, was with the Town of Franklin from 1987 to 2001 and that he had never been disciplined during his law enforcement career. (Docket #58 at 1). When asked on the application whether there were any issues that he was aware of that would arise during a background investigation, Heagney answered in the negative. (Compl. at ¶¶ 28-29).

         On March 10, 2014, Fitchburg Mayor Wong announced that Heagney was her nomination for police chief. (Id. at ¶ 32). Heagney’s hiring was contingent on approval by the Fitchburg City Council. (Id. at ¶ 34). Mayor Wong tasked Defendant Badgequest, Inc. to conduct a background investigation of Heagney prior to the City Council vote. (Docket #58 at 1-2). Prior to that vote, the Mayor, the City Council, and several area newspapers received an anonymous letter stating that Heagney had worked, not only for the Franklin Police Department, but also for the Attleboro and Falmouth Police Departments, and that he had disciplinary issues in his past. (Compl. at ¶¶ 59, 62). The letter also stated that Heagney had been brought up on charges of pistol-whipping in the past, but that the case had been dismissed when the victim refused to testify. (Id. at ¶ 62). Heagney maintains that these statements were false and that the Defendants “failed to fully investigate the truth or accuracy of any of these statements.” (Id. at ¶¶ 63, 69).

         On March 18, 2014, Mayor Wong withdrew her nomination of Heagney and informed the City Council by email of her decision. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42). After withdrawing the nomination, Mayor Wong made statements to the local press that Heagney was “not forthcoming” and “withheld key information” about his “resume” and his “character.” (Id. at ¶ 51). The Worcester Telegram & Gazette published an article on the matter on March 20, 2014, in which they quoted a text message sent from Mayor Wong stating, “The city is not interested in pursuing a candidate for police chief who is not forthcoming with his resume. We are focused on moving forward with a new search.” (Id. at ¶ 52). The same article states “Ms. Wong claims [Mr. Heagney] . . . was not forthcoming on his resume about his work experience or about a court case on alleged assault and battery and other charges when he was 21.” (Id. at ¶ 53) (alterations in original). Heagney claims that each of Mayor Wong’s statements was false and made with knowledge of, or in reckless disregard of, its falsity. (Id. at ¶ 56). Heagney also asserts that Mayor Wong made these statements without giving Heagney an adequate opportunity to demonstrate the falsity of the statements and to clear his name. (Id. at ¶ 57).

         In their brief, the City Defendants state that, when Heagney was provided the anonymous letter, he admitted that he had also worked at the Falmouth Police Department between 1990 and 1993 and had been charged with the crimes of Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon, Assault and Battery, and Threatening to Commit a Crime in 1988 while he was a police officer in Franklin.[2] (Docket #58 at 2). He stated that he had been acquitted of those crimes and provided a Polygraph Report of an examination conducted on April 12, 1988, indicating that he had answered truthfully when denying that he had threatened a woman with a gun. (Id.). Heagney also provided a newspaper article regarding the acquittal. (Id.).

         Heagney commenced this suit on January 16, 2015, asserting claims sounding in defamation, unlawful employment practices, violations of the Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information statute and regulations, violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, invasion of the right of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with advantageous relationships, naming as Defendants Mayor Wong, the City of Fitchburg, Badgequest, Stephen H. Unsworth, and John Doe (the author of the anonymous letter). (Compl.).

         On December 15, 2016, Heagney was deposed by the City Defendants. (Docket #30 at 1). During the deposition, counsel for the City Defendants attempted to inquire into the underlying facts relating to criminal charges of which Heagney was acquitted in 1989 and the records for which were sealed in approximately 2001. (Id.). Heagney’s counsel instructed him “not to answer questions about the underlying facts underlying the assault and battery.” (Docket #58 at 8-9). Heagney’s counsel further instructed him not to answer anything concerning what was in his personnel file concerning this incident. (Id. at 9-10). At the end of the full-day deposition, the City Defendants’ counsel stated that they were suspending the deposition. (Docket #30 at 2). On December 21, 2015, Heagney filed a motion for a protective order limiting the scope of his deposition to prohibit the City Defendants from inquiring into the facts underlying the sealed criminal acquittal. (Docket #30).

         II. STANDARD

         The scope of discovery generally extends to:

any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.[3]

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Relevant evidence is defined in Federal Rule of Evidence 401 as evidence having “any tendency” to make a fact that is of consequence in determining the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

         “At any time during a deposition, the deponent or a party may move to terminate or limit it on the ground that it is being conducted in bad faith or in a manner that unreasonably annoys, embarrasses, or oppresses the deponent or a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(d)(3)(A). “The court may order that the deposition be terminated ...

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