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Paluch v. Dawson

December 12, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

(Judge Rambo)


Presently before the court is a motion to compel discovery filed by Plaintiff James A. Paluch, Jr. (Doc. 82.) Specifically, Paluch is seeking responses to a request for production of documents he served upon Defendants on May 4, 2007. (See Doc. 63.) For the reasons that follow, the motion to compel (Doc. 82) will be granted in part, deferred in part, and denied in all other respects.

I. Background

Paluch initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on September 7, 2006, while confined at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Camp Hill").*fn1 (Doc. 1.) Paluch sets forth allegations against several employees of the State Correctional Institution in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Huntingdon" or "SCIH"), his former place of confinement. He contends that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by failing to protect him from his cellmate, Roger Smith, whom he contends has a history of aggressive and assaultive behavior. Specifically, Paluch alleges that he informed Defendants of his fear for his own safety before Smith assaulted him in their cell on September 9, 2004. As relief he seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants filed an answer to the complaint on January 9, 2007. (Doc. 38.) Since that time, the parties have been engaging in discovery. On September 6, 2007, the court issued an order setting the deadline for completion of discovery for December 31, 2007. (Doc. 97.) Outstanding are issues relating to discovery disputes regarding a request for production of documents (Doc. 63) served upon Defendants. Those issues will be discussed herein.

II. Discussion

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. Relevance for discovery purposes is defined broadly. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit discovery "regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . . Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "[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) authorizes a court to limit discovery where (i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information sought by discovery in the action; or (iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(i)-(iii). However, when there is no doubt about relevance, a court should tend toward permitting discovery. Stabilus v. Haynsworth, Baldwin, Johnson & Greaves, P.A., 144 F.R.D. 258, 265-66 (E.D. Pa. 1992).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 allows a party who has received evasive or incomplete discovery responses to seek a court order compelling additional disclosure or discovery. The party seeking 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).

On May 4, 2007, Paluch served a request for production of documents on the Defendants in this action. Paluch also submitted to the court a copy of this discovery document, which contains forty-two (42) requests. (Doc. 63.) On June 5, 2007, Defendants responded to the requests by providing documentation or reserving the right to supplement their response at a later date, or by objecting on the basis of relevancy, privilege, or security concerns.*fn2 At issue here are Defendants' objections to Plaintiff's request for production of documents.*fn3 Those objections have been grouped together into four categories for purposes of analysis. The court will review the requested documents by category and the objections Defendants raise thereto in an effort to resolve the instant discovery dispute and place the case back in a posture to be resolved. The court will also review Paluch's objections to Defendants' responses to certain of his original discovery requests.

A. Defendant Objection - Release of Maps and Diagrams of SCIH Untingdon

Defendants object to Paluch's request for the release of maps and diagrams of SCI-Huntingdon. Those requests are detailed as follows.

In Request No. 6, Paluch requests "All maps, drawings, sketches, photographs, motion pictures, videotapes and similar documents with respect to any matter at issue in the case." (Doc. 63 at 2.) In Request No. 15, Paluch requests the "Layout drawing of the RHU at SCIH." (Id. at 3.) In Request No. 16, Paluch requests the "Layout drawing of SCIH RHU G-Unit D-Quad (close-up), including diagrams of cells, doors with tray slots, shower stalls, where cameras are located, where electronic/magnetic counter plates are located on the walls, stairways, entrance/exit doorways, security bubble, aluminum partition, etc." (Id.) In Request No. 17, Paluch requests the "Layout drawing of inside RHU G-Unit D-Quad Cell 1009 (SCIH), including doorway, trayslot location, bunks, desk, sink and toilet, window, shelf, etc." (Id.)

Defendants raise the same objection to all four requests set forth above. Specifically, Defendants reason that the above-requested documents reveal privileged and confidential information which, if released, may jeopardize the safety and security within the institution. (Doc. 110 at 5, 7-8.) They assert that maps and sketches of SCI-Huntingdon may be used by Paluch or other inmates to plan an escape from the institution. (Id.) Paluch counters that he requires these documents for trial in order to show the jury the crime scene. (Doc. 118 at 10.)

The court agrees that Defendants' concerns are valid and that the above-referenced records must be kept confidential in the interests of prison safety and security. As such, the motion to compel will be denied with regard to Request Nos. 6, 15, 16, and 17.

B. Defendant Objection - Overbroad, Irrelevant or Not Reasonably Calculated to Lead to Discovery of Admissible Evidence

Defendants object to a number of Paluch's requests based on their being "overbroad, irrelevant or not reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible ...

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