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Hood v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 18, 2019

TYRONE HOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants,
v.
NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE, Non-party Respondent.

         United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AMIT P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I.

         Non-party Respondent Nicholas Schmidle (“Respondent”) is a journalist. He moves to quash two deposition subpoenas issued by the defendants in a civil rights case pending in the Northern District of Illinois, titled Tyrone Hood v. City of Chicago, et al. No. 16-cv-1970 (N.D. Ill. filed Feb. 5, 2016). The defendants in that action are the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago (“Defendants”). Defendants seek transfer of this dispute to the Northern District of Illinois and, absent such transfer, they ask the court to reject Respondent's request to avoid testimony.

         For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Defendants' Motion to Transfer and grants Respondent's Motion to Quash.

         II.

         In the summer of 2014, Respondent wrote and published an article entitled “Crime Fiction” in The New Yorker magazine about the 1996 murder conviction of a Chicago man named Tyrone Hood. Resp't Mot. to Quash Subpoenas or for a Protective Order, ECF No. 1, 1-1 [hereinafter Mot. to Quash], Ex. A, ECF No. 1-2 [hereinafter Article]. The Article described the circumstances surrounding the murder, Hood's activities on the day of the crime, the investigation that followed, Hood's conviction, the actions of an alternate suspect, and Hood's lawyers' attempts to exonerate him. See generally Article. The Article identified as evidence of Hood's wrongful conviction allegations of police misconduct, recantations by witnesses, and evidence suggesting another perpetrator. Id. At the time the Article was published, Hood had served approximately twenty years in prison. Id.

         In January 2015, Illinois Governor Patrick J. Quinn commuted the remainder of Hood's sentence. Id., Ex. D, ECF No. 6-7 [hereinafter Ex. D], at 6-7. The commutation of Hood's sentence was motivated, at least in part, by investigative reporting, including Respondent's Article. See Defs.' Opp'n, Ex. B, The Exoneration Project Panel Discussion, ECF No. 6-5, at 8 (Governor Quinn noting that The New Yorker and Respondent “deserved a lot of credit” for raising attention about the issues in Hood's case.); see also Ex. D at 12-30 (showing that Respondent's Article was part of Hood's Clemency File, which was sent to Governor Quinn). Shortly after the Governor's grant of clemency, the Cook County State's Attorney Office, following a two-year investigation by its Conviction Integrity Unit, successfully asked a Cook County court to vacate Hood's conviction.[1]

         The following year, on February 5, 2016, Hood filed a lawsuit against employees of the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago in the Northern District of Illinois. See Hood v. City of Chicago, No. 1:16-cv-01970 (N.D. Ill. filed Feb. 5, 2016) [hereinafter Illinois Docket]. Hood brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as a number of state law claims. Compl., Illinois Docket, ECF No. 1.

         Defendants dispute Hood's innocence. They believe that Respondent's Article was part of a carefully coordinated media campaign by Hood's post-conviction counsel designed to garner attention and support for Hood's case. Individual Officers' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Transfer and in Opp'n to Mot. to Quash, ECF No. 7 [hereinafter Defs.' Opp'n], at 1, 5. To obtain support for this theory, Defendants issued three subpoenas to Respondent. On March 7, 2019, Defendants issued to Respondent a document subpoena, calling on him to produce records relating to his three The New Yorker articles, [2] as well as fifty named individuals and entities. See Mot. to Quash, Decl. of Nicholas Schmidle, ECF No. 1-9 [hereinafter Schmidle Decl.], ¶ 7; Mot. to Quash, Ex. C, ECF No. 1-4 [hereinafter Ex. C]. The parties agree that the document subpoena is not at issue before this court. Mot. to Quash at 9; Defs.' Opp'n at 10.

         Defendants then directed two deposition subpoenas to Respondent, one on June 18, 2019, and a second on June 27, 2019. Schmidle Decl. ¶¶ 9, 10; Mot. to Quash, Ex. E, ECF No. 1-6. On July 19, 2019, Respondent filed in this court a Motion to Quash these subpoenas, arguing that they are unenforceable on multiple grounds, including: (1) they were not served in accordance with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil of Procedure 45; (2) they seek discovery that is unnecessary, cumulative, and burdensome; and (3) they demand testimony protected by the reporter's privilege, which Defendants cannot overcome. See generally Mot. to Quash.

         Shortly thereafter, Defendants moved to transfer Respondent's challenge to the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that the Illinois court is better suited to resolve the dispute. See generally Individual Officers' Motion to Transfer Motion to Quash or for Protective Order, ECF No. 6. Defendants also opposed the relief sought by Respondent, and thus seek to compel Respondent's testimony. See generally Defs.' Opp'n.

         The court first addresses Defendants' Motion to Transfer, before turning to the merits of ...


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