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Yeisley v. Pa State Police

March 31, 2008

SCOTT A. YEISLEY PLAINTIFF
v.
PA STATE POLICE, JEFF MILLER, CYNTHIA TRANSUE, SID SIMON, GOVAN MARTIN, JOE MARUT, BOB MURRAY, BOB TITLER, FRANK KOSCELNAK, CARL HARRISON DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff Scott A. Yeisley's First Motion for Sanctions. (Dkt. Entry 76.) Upon consideration of the motion, Defendants' opposition thereto, plaintiff's reply brief, the applicable law, and the record herein, the Court concludes that the motion for sanctions should be granted in part.

II. BACKGROUND

This civil rights litigation concerns alleged abusive, retaliatory, and malicious conduct of the Pennsylvania state police and various of its officers in relation to Plaintiff's employment as a Pennsylvania state trooper. Plaintiff claims, inter alia, that Defendants engaged in a malicious prosecution of him based upon information Plaintiff provided during a confidential Members' Assistance Program ("MAP") session Plaintiff attended as a result of work-related stress he was experiencing. Plaintiff also claims that the prosecution was undertaken to retaliate against him for exercising First Amendment protected rights.

Discovery in this matter has been difficult and protracted. Compounding the discovery problems is the turnover in defense counsel during the course of this litigation. The first attorney withdrew his appearance on behalf of Defendants on April 5, 2006. (Dkt. Entry 16.) The second attorney withdrew her appearance four months later. (Dkt. Entry 41.) Present defense counsel entered her appearance on August 8, 2006. (Dkt. Entry 42.) The substitutions of defense counsel have frustrated Plaintiff, who has diligently and assiduously pursued extensive discovery in a matter that has a convoluted factual background spanning several years of allegedly wrongful conduct. The frustration is evident in the arguments presented in Plaintiff's First Motion for Sanctions filed on January 23, 2007. (Dkt. Entry 76.) In general, Plaintiff seeks sanctions for untimely disclosures as well as the absence of any production of e-mails. In the reply brief in support of the sanctions motion, plaintiff makes clear that his "motion solely seeks sanctions based upon violating rules relating to access to originals, supplementing discovery, and obeying [the] Court Order of 10/25/06." (Reply Brief in Support of First Motion for Sanctions, Dkt. Entry 113, at 2.) Specifically, Plaintiff complains that Defendants deliberately delayed the production of an original of an incident memorandum that bore handwritten notes on its reverse side, produced as Original Bates 183. He also complains that Defendants failed to comply with the court-imposed deadline for producing Administrative Regulations ("ARs"), Field Regulations ("FRs"), and "use of force" complaint forms. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated discovery obligations by not producing any e-mails.

III. DISCUSSION

Whether to impose sanctions for failure to comply with discovery Orders is committed to the court's discretion. See Flaherty v. M.A. Brunder & Sons, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 137, 141 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Two overarching standards guide the exercise of discretion:

First, any sanction must be 'just'; second, the sanction must be specifically related to the particular 'claim' which was at issue in the Order to provide discovery.

Ins. Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v. Compagnie Des Bauxites, 456 U.S. 694, 707 (1982). Within the context of these two overarching principles, the court is to assess the culpability of the offending party and the prejudice to the party seeking sanctions. See Estate of Spear v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 41 F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir. 1994). The court has a variety of sanctions it may impose, depending upon the degree of culpability and the extent of the prejudice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2). The more severe the sanction, the greater the culpability and/or the prejudice must be. Estate of Spear, 41 F.3d at 111.

Plaintiff insists that the reverse side of a document referred to as Original Bates 183, containing what Plaintiff describes as a significant handwritten notation, was not made available to him for an extended period of time in a deliberate effort to conceal this evidence. Plaintiff claims that the handwritten note suggests that there was "widespread knowledge of what plaintiff was complaining about during the [confidential] 5/4/03 MAP Session." (Brief in Support of First Motion for Sanctions, Dkt. Entry 113) at 5.) Plaintiff further complains that the delay in producing the reverse side of Bates 183 was prejudicial because he did not have this information available to him when he deposed a number of individuals. As a sanction, Plaintiff requests either a default judgment or, alternatively, the right to re-depose six individuals, with the cost of the re-depositions to be borne by Defendants.

It is undisputed that the defense production of documents was initially made by printing out records that had been scanned electronically. In response to the motion for sanctions, Defendants have submitted an affidavit attesting to the fact that only the front side of each page of a document was scanned so that the reverse side of Bates 183 did not exist in an electronic format when the initial production of documents was made. Defendants have further explained that the delay in making the original of Bates 183 available was attributable to a number of factors, including the turnover in defense counsel.

Despite Plaintiff's protestations to contrary, I find no basis for concluding that Defendants attempted to conceal the existence of the reverse side of Bates 183. Nor do I find that, given the convoluted nature of this litigation and the extensive discovery that has occurred, Defendants were acting in bad faith. Thus, the drastic sanction of default judgment is plainly not warranted.

On the other hand, Plaintiff has been prejudiced by the not having available to him the reverse side of Bates 183 when he took depositions in this matter. The notation is plainly relevant to inquiries to be made of Defendant Robert L. Murray, who conducted the investigation that is the subject of ...


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