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Spruill v. Gillis

January 30, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Vanaskie


I. Introduction

Presently before the Court are several motions filed by pro se Plaintiff Robert Spruill. Two of the motions seek to compel Defendants McGlaughlin and Brown to respond to discovery requests (Dkt. Entries 75, 97). Also pending are two motions for leave to file supplemental complaints (Dkt. Entries 95, 96). Finally, Spruill has filed a third motion seeking the appointment of counsel in this case. (Dkt. Entry 98.) For the reasons that follow, the motions to supplement the complaint and for appointment of counsel will be denied. One motion to compel will be granted in part, and the remaining motion will de denied in its entirety.

II. Background

Spruill initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 23, 2001, against the following four defendants regarding incidents that occurred at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township (SCI-Coal Township), Pennsylvania, his former place of confinement: Frank Gillis and Stephen Gooler, SCI-Coal Township prison officials; Shawn McGlaughlin, a physician, and Brian Brown, a physician's assistant. Spruill alleges that as a result of Defendants' deliberate indifference, his serious back condition was left untreated, or was inadequately treated, resulting in severe pain and further injury. On May 29, 2002, motions to dismiss filed by Defendants were granted, and the case was closed. On June 18, 2004, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of this Court with respect to the dismissal of Defendant Gooler, and remanded the case with regard to the dismissal of Defendants McGlaughlin and Brown.*fn1 The Third Circuit held that the Eighth Amendment claims for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs were exhausted and sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Discovery has been taking place since the matter was remanded.

In the complaint, Spruill sets forth the following allegations. On May 2, 2001, he was transferred from the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Pennsylvania, to SCI-Coal Township, where he was housed in the Restricted Housing Unit. Upon arrival, Spruill immediately requested to be seen by the medical staff due to severe pain he was experiencing in his lower back and right leg. After several hours passed, he states that he was interviewed by a nurse. He informed the nurse that he suffers from a chronic back condition known as "spondylotic spinal stenosis." He was advised by the nurse to sign up for sick call.

On May 3, 2001, Spruill signed up for sick call. The following day, May 4, he fell due to the pain he was experiencing, striking the left side of his face on the toilet in his cell. Spruill contends that he was knocked unconscious and injured his right thumb. He informed the nurse of his fall, and she stated that a doctor would be advised. At this point, Spruill had not yet been seen by a doctor in response to his complaints.

Dr. McGlaughlin arrived at Spruill's cell on May 5, 2001. Spruill contends that McGlaughlin refused to examine him, informing Spruill that Spruill would never go to the infirmary. Two days later P.A. Brown saw Spruill and accused him of faking his injuries. According to Spruill, Brown did not conduct an examination either.

On May 9, 2001, Spruill complained to a nurse that pain medication prescribed for his back was not working.*fn2 Later that morning, Spruill had another fall due to sharp pain he experienced in his lower back and leg. He thereafter submitted another sick call request and was seen by Defendant Brown on May 10, 2001. Spruill alleges that Brown did nothing in response to his complaints regarding the ineffectiveness of the pain medication.

Another sick call request was submitted on May 11, 2001. Defendant McGlaughlin saw Spruill the following day. He informed Spruill that he thought nothing was wrong with his back and accused him of "playing games." On May 14, 2001, McGlaughlin had Spruill brought to the infirmary examination room where Spruill contends McGlaughlin deliberately bent and twisted his legs "as if he was trying to shape a pretzel." Spruill alleges that neither his face nor his thumb was examined for the injuries sustained in the May 4, 2001 fall.

III. Discussion

A. Motions to Compel

1. Legal Standard on Scope of Discovery

Courts afford considerable latitude in discovery in order to ensure that litigation proceeds with "the fullest possible knowledge of the issues and facts before trial." Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947). The polestar of discovery is relevance. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) states that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. . . . Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." "[A]ll relevant material is discoverable unless an applicable evidentiary privilege is asserted. The presumption that such matter is discoverable, however, is defeasible." Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 65 (3d Cir. 2000). Rule 26(b)(2)(iii) authorizes a court to prohibit discovery where "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation, and the importance of the proposed discovery in resolving the issues."

Rule 37 allows a party who has received evasive or incomplete discovery responses to seek an order compelling additional disclosure or discovery. The party requesting the order to compel must demonstrate the relevance of the information sought. The burden then shifts to the opposing party, who must demonstrate in specific terms why a discovery request does not fall within the broad scope of discovery or is otherwise privileged or improper. Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F. Supp. 255, 258 (E.D. Pa. 1982).

2. Spruill's First Motion to Compel

On August 9, 2004, Spruill served a Request for the Production of Documents on Defendants McGlaughlin and Brown pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 34, identifying twelve separate categories of documents that were to be produced. On September 13, 2004, shortly after the period for responding to the requests expired, Spruill filed a motion to compel discovery. In opposing Spruill's motion, Defendants admit that they failed to respond timely to the discovery request and then proceed to object to seven (7) of the twelve (12) requests -- Requests 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12.*fn3 Although Defendants should not have waited to assert objections to the document request until after a motion to compel had been filed,*fn4 the Court will resolve the outstanding dispute in an effort to move this matter along. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Three of the discovery requests objected to by Defendants concern the production of Spruill's medical records. In Request #7, Spruill seeks his complete medical records from February 12, 1998, to the present time. In Request #8, he seeks all other documents regarding his medical care which were generated by staff at seven (7) Pennsylvania prisons where Spruill has been incarcerated for the same time period. Request #12 seeks all MRI and myelogram test reports, as well as all physical evaluation reports, written diagnoses, recommendations and conclusions regarding Spruill's back condition for the period of January 1, 2000 until May 1, 2001.

Defendants object to each of these requests on the ground that production is precluded by a Department of Corrections (DOC) policy barring the release of inmate medical records to inmates. Defendants state, however, that they will seek written authorization from the DOC for the release of such records and, if obtained, provide the records to Spruill. Defendants will therefore be directed to advise the Court within twenty (20) days as to whether the release of the medical records has been obtained and if so, whether they have made the medical records available to Spruill for inspection. If approval has not been obtained, Spruill may subpoena the records from the DOC, and it will be required to produce those records that pertain to his alleged back condition.

In Request #3, Spruill seeks copies of all grievances and complaints concerning inadequate or improper medical treatment filed by inmates against Defendants McGlaughlin and Brown from May 2000 to the present time. Defendants object to this request on several different grounds, including relevancy, undue burden, and privilege with respect to the release of other inmates' prison and medical information. The Court first finds that the request clearly seeks relevant information. Plaintiff must show deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The complaint history against a healthcare provider may suggest an inference of intentional disregard for an inmate's medical needs. Defendants have not carried their responsibility of showing undue burden. With regard to Defendants' concern regarding other inmates' personal information, the names and any other identifying data can be redacted from the documents prior to production to Spruill for inspection. Accordingly, Defendants will be directed to provide to Spruill for inspection any ...

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