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Iseley v. Talaber

September 28, 2007

CHARLES ISELEY, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN TALABER, ET AL., DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Charles Iseley, an inmate currently housed at the State Correctional Institution in Fayette, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 2, 2005. Named as Defendants are Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and John Talaber, assistant counsel for the DOC. In the complaint Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him access to publications and ordered their destruction in retaliation for his filing of a state-court mandamus action against Beard. Talaber served as Beard's counsel in the state action. It is Plaintiff's assertion that he was "singled out" and, as a result of Defendants' actions, was unable to use the destroyed publications as exhibits in his underlying state-court action. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and damages for the violation of the both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause. The Court will address several of the motions presently pending in this action.

II. Background

In reviewing the record, it is undisputed that in March 2003, while confined at the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Plaintiff was transferred to the Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU) within the prison. The LTSU is the most restrictive maximum security housing within the DOC designed for high-risk inmates, and is coupled with extremely limited programming and privileges. The LTSU Program has four (4) levels, with Level 4 being the highest and most restrictive level. Plaintiff was in Level 3 at the time relevant to the incidents alleged in the complaint. During his stay in the LTSU, certain publications were confiscated. In response, Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania challenging the denial of the publications and naming Defendant Beard as the respondent. (Doc. No. 28, Docket Sheet in Iseley v. Beard, No. 254 M.D. 2003 (Pa. Commw. Ct.)). Beard was represented by Talaber in this action. Plaintiff contends that he was going to use the confiscated publications which were not destroyed as exhibits in his state-court action. However, Plaintiff contends that in June 2003, in retaliation for his filing of the state-court action, Beard and Talaber "singled him out" and ordered that the confiscated materials, as well as any incoming publications, be destroyed. Because of the alleged destruction, Plaintiff claims he was unable to use the publications as exhibits in his state action. It is undisputed that the mandamus petition was dismissed due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust available state remedies. In addition, the Commonwealth Court found that a valid, rational connection existed between the prison regulation and the legitimate and neutral governmental interest of rehabilitation and prison security put forward by Beard to justify the publication ban. (Id.) As a result, Beard's cross motion for summary relief was granted. In the instant action, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause by singling him out and confiscating and destroying his publications in retaliation for his filing of the state action.

This Memorandum will address Plaintiff's two pending motions to compel discovery (Doc. Nos. 73, 75), as well as Plaintiff's second motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 77), motion for jury trial (Doc. No. 89), and motion to respond to a letter sent by defense counsel to the undersigned (Doc. No. 98).*fn1

III. Discussion

A. Motions to Compel (Doc. Nos. 73, 75)

Pending are two (2) motions to compel discovery filed by Plaintiff. The first motion, which was filed on November 20, 2006, simply asserts that Defendants have failed to respond in any way to interrogatories and requests for the production of documents served on October 4, 2006 and October 28, 2006. It does not appear that the motion was ever served on Defendants or that a supporting brief was ever submitted. In any event, the motion will be denied as moot in light of the filing by Plaintiff of his second motion to compel (Doc. No. 75) wherein it appears clear that Defendants have provided responses to his outstanding discovery requests, either by answering the interrogations and requests or setting forth objections thereto. The Court will now address Plaintiff's second motion to compel, in which he challenges the adequacy of Defendants' responses to his discovery requests. In the motion, Plaintiff seeks access to confiscated receipts since March 2003, all documents relating to his placement/retention in the LTSU since March 2003, and two (2) videotapes of the confiscation/destruction of his property. (Doc. No. 76, at 1-2.)

Generally, 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 to a claim or defense. 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). Disclosure of information relevant to the subject matter of the litigation, as opposed to a particular claim or defense, however, may only be compelled for good cause. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Furthermore, Rule 26(b)(2)(C) 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."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 allows a party who has received evasive or incomplete discovery responses to seek a Court order compelling disclosure or discovery of the materials sought. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a). The party moving to compel must demonstrate the relevance of the information sought to a particular claim or defense. 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. See Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F. Supp. 255, 258 (E.D. Pa. 1982).

According to Defendants, Plaintiff has served three (3) sets of discovery requests, and responses have been submitted to each request.*fn2 Plaintiff seeks to compel Defendants to produce two (2) videotapes which allegedly show the confiscation/destruction of his property. This claim can be disposed of without unnecessary elaboration as none of the discovery requests served by Plaintiff requested the production of videotapes. Plaintiff also seeks to compel any documents regarding his placement and retention in the LTSU. Defendants objected to this request on the basis of relevancy, of being overly broad and burdensome, and also on the basis of privilege.

The Court agrees that the documents sought by Plaintiff are irrelevant to the claims in this action. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him access to publications sent to him between March 2003 and January 2004, and ordered their destruction in retaliation for filing a state-court mandamus action. As such, aside from any concerns regarding burden or privilege related to the production of such documents, the Court finds that the documents sought are not relevant or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence when Plaintiff's LTSU placement is not an issue in this action.

Plaintiff also seeks to compel confiscated receipts from March 2003 to date, and argues that Defendants have failed to produce these documents. In Plaintiff's First Request for Production of Documents, Request #2, Plaintiff seeks all documents concerning the confiscation/destruction of his property at SCI-Pittsburgh from January 2003 to January 2004. While raising an objection to the Request as overbroad and burdensome, Defendants agree to produce for Plaintiff's inspection all documents relating to the confiscation/destruction of his incoming publications while he was confined in the LTSU at SCI-Pittsburgh. Defendants further state that the requested documents will be produced for inspection upon Plaintiff submitting an Inmate Request to Staff Member form to the superintendent's assistant, and that Plaintiff can make copies of the documents at his own expense. As such, it is clear Defendants have agreed to produce to Plaintiff the confiscated receipts ...


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