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Ascenzi v. O'Brien

January 23, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie United States District Judge



I. Introduction

Michael J. Ascenzi, an inmate currently housed at the Retreat State Correctional Institution ("SCI-Retreat"), Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights in connection with the execution of a July 21, 2004, search warrant of his apartment which led to his arrest, a parole violation, and ultimately a conviction for the possession of heroin. The sole named defendant in this action is Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") Detective O'Brien.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's third "Motion to Compel Interrogatories." (Dkt. Entry 68.) Ascenzi argues that: (1) Defendant's responses to his interrogatories were untimely; and (2) Defendant inappropriately responded to them as a request for admission rather than an interrogatories as posed them. Defendant filed an opposition brief. A telephonic status conference was held on August 6, 2007, to address Ascenzi's motion. During the conference defense counsel acknowledged that the discovery responses were untimely, but they were ultimately provided, and defendants have agreed to answering additional interrogatories in excess of the twenty-five (25) already answered. (See Dkt. Entry 80.) Thus, I see no harm or prejudice suffered by Ascenzi as a result of the admittedly untimely responses. Next, Defense counsel explained that although Ascenzi labeled his request as "interrogatories," their phrasing did not invite a reply, but rather sought the agreement or denial of a series of statements presented by Ascenzi. As such, defense counsel interpreted the request as a set of request for admissions and responded to them accordingly.

Following the telephonic conference, Ascenzi was directed to file a reply brief to Defendant's Brief in Opposition to his third Motion to Compel. Plaintiff filed his reply brief on August 17, 2007. (Id.) As such, this motion is ripe and ready for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion to compel will be denied.

II. Relevant Factual Background

On July 21, 2004, Ascenzi was living in Nanticoke with his father. On that date, PSP Detective O'Brien, with the assistance of unidentified officers, executed a search warrant of Plaintiff's father's home. A quantity of heroin was found in the kitchen breadbox and $1,557 in unmarked cash was found in Plaintiff's bedroom. Plaintiff contends the discovered money belonged to his father. He also claims O'Brien and others "ransacked" his father's home during the process of the search.

Ascenzi alleges that Detective O'Brien fabricated the information to obtain an "anticipatory" search warrant of his home based on an unreliable "junky" confidential informant ("CI"). The Affidavit of Probable Cause for the search warrant was predicated on three drug buys. (Dkt. Entry 22-2, Plaintiff's Response to the Answer, Exh. 1, Affidavit of Probable Cause.) According to the probable cause affidavit, on two occasions, O'Brien "with the assistance of a Confidential Informant," contacted an individual named "Mike" to purchase drugs. On both occasions, O'Brien drove the CI to 333 West Union Street, Nanticoke, to the home of Americo Ascenzi, Plaintiff's father. Each time the CI went into the residence with $220 and returned with 10 small envelopes containing a brown powdery substance that later tested positive for heroin. The CI was checked for contraband and currency prior to, and after, each transaction. (Id.) Ascenzi was arrested and ultimately pled guilty to possession of heroin.

Ascenzi charges that O'Brien violated his Fourth Amendment rights as he did not have probable cause to arrest him or search his father's home. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief.

III. Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on June 13, 2005. The parties engaged in discovery which resulted in Plaintiff filing several motions to compel, based in part, on Defendant's untimely responses to properly served discovery and Defendant's failure to disclose the identify of his CI. Plaintiff's first and second motions to compel, addressing inter alia, those issues, were resolved on March 19, 2007. (See Dkt. Entry 44.) On April 25, 2007, the Court directed that all discovery be completed by June 8, 2007, and that dispositive motions, if any, be filed by July 9, 2007.

On May 2, 2007, Ascenzi served Defendant with a "Second Round of Interrogatories." (See Dkt. Entry 77-2, Defendant's Answers to Second Round of Interrogatories.) Defendant responded to this request on July 3, 2007. (Id.) The briefing of Defendant's July 3, 2007, Motion for Summary (dkt. entry 65) is stayed pending the resolution of this motion to compel and Plaintiff's motions for appointment of counsel.*fn1 Defendant was granted until August 27, 2007, to file his responses to Plaintiff's additional interrogatories. (Dkt. Entry 84.)

IV. Standard of Review

Generally, courts afford considerable latitude in discovery in order to ensure that the case proceeds with "the fullest possible knowledge of the issues and facts before trial." Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947). The purpose of discovery is to make trial "less a game of blind man's bluff and more a fair contest with the basic issues and facts disclosed to the fullest practicable extent possible," United States v. Procter & Gamble, 356 U.S. 677, 683 (1958), and to narrow and clarify the issues in dispute, Hickman, 329 U.S. at 501.

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). Interrogatories are governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 33 and are intended to be exploratory in nature, designed to flush out facts, witnesses and documents so that the requesting party may thereafter prepare to prove his case in an orderly manner. Requests for admissions do not serve the same purpose ...

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