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Lyons v. Beard

March 8, 2010

ERIC LYONS, PLAINTIFF
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

Background

Eric Lyons ("Plaintiff"), an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Mahanoy"), initiated this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 By Memorandum and Order dated March 9, 2009, this Court dismissed Plaintiff 's claims, with the exception of his claim that Defendant Property Officer Andy Huber, an employee at Lyons' prior place of confinement, the State Correctional Institution, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Camp Hill"), was responsible for confiscation/destruction of Lyons' personal legal materials and thereby violated his right of access to the courts. (Dkt. Entry # 34.) Presently pending is Plaintiff's motion to compel production of documents.*fn2 The motion (Dkt. Entry # 44) has been briefed and is ripe for consideration.

Discussion

Plaintiff states that on April 3, 2009, he served Defendant Huber with a seven (7) part request for production of documents.*fn3 Id. at 1. Defendant Huber objected on privilege and undue burden grounds.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 provides in relevant part:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense -- including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. ... 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).

Rule 26 establishes a liberal discovery policy. Great West Life Assurance Co. v. Levithan, 152 F.R.D. 494, 497 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Discovery is generally permitted of any items that are relevant or may lead to the discovery of relevant information. Hicks v. Big Bros./Big Sisters of Am., 168 F.R.D. 528, 529 (E.D. Pa. 1996); Stabilus v. Haynsworth, Baldwin, Johnson & Greaves, P.A., 144 F.R.D. 258, 265-66 (E.D. Pa. 1992)(when there is no doubt about relevance a court should tend toward permitting discovery). Moreover, discovery need not be confined to items of admissible evidence but may encompass that which appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Callahan v. A.E.V., Inc., 947 F. Supp. 175, 177 (W.D. Pa. 1996); Momah v. Albert Einstein Medical Ctr., 164 F.R.D. 412, 417 (E.D. Pa. 1996).

Although "the scope of relevance in discovery is far broader than that allowed for evidentiary purposes, it is not without its limits." Stabilus, 144 F.R.D. at 265. The court will not permit discovery where a request is made in bad faith, unduly burdensome, irrelevant to the general subject matter of the action, or relates to confidential or privileged information. S.S. Fretz, Jr., Inc. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., No. 90-1731, 1991 WL 21655, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 1991); see generally 8 Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure §§ 2007-2013 (2d ed. 1990).

The burden is on the objecting parties to demonstrate in specific terms why a discovery request is improper. Hicks, 168 F.R.D. at 529; Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F. Supp. 255, 258 (E.D. Pa. 1982). The party objecting to discovery must show that the requested materials do not fall "within the broad scope of relevance . . . or else are of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure . . . ." Burke v. New York City Police Dep't, 115 F.R.D. 220, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). Furthermore, federal policy favors broad discovery in civil rights actions, which "should be resolved by a determination of the truth rather than a determination that the truth shall remain hidden." Inmates of Unit 14 v. Rebideau, 102 F.R.D. 122, 128 (N.D. N.Y. 1984).

Request # 1

Request # 1 of Plaintiff's seven (7) part request seeks production of any grievances, complaints and resulting memorandums and investigative reports filed against Defendant Huber "concerning the tampering with or destruction of SMU [Special Management Unit] inmates personal and legal property, or the interference with an inmate's access to the courts by Defendant Huber between January 1, 2005 to the present."*fn4 (Dkt. Entry # 47, Exhibit 1, ¶ 1.) Huber, relying on a supporting declaration from SCI-Camp Hill Superintendent's Assistant Robert Volciak, contends that in order to obtain the requested information, approximately 1,000 grievance files would have to be searched manually. (Dkt. Entry # 61, Exhibit 2, ¶ 17.) Volciak adds that the search would take a minimum of 40-50 hours. Defendant concludes that the marginal relevance of this discovery is outweighed by the burden of producing the relevant documents.

Lyons counters the burdensome argument by asserting that the requested information is readily available via the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' (DOC) computerized inmate grievance tracking system. However, Volciak states that based upon a search via the DOC's automated inmate grievance tracking system, forty-three (43) grievances were filed against Huber during the relevant time period. (Dkt. Entry 61-2, Exhibit 2 at ΒΆ 13.) According to Volciak, none of those grievances relate to property issues. Any grievance addressing SCI-Camp Hill's property policy would not be listed as a grievance against Huber, and Volciak indicates that 695 such grievances have been initiated at that prison since 2005. In addition, 92 inmate grievances regarding legal issues and 195 due process related matters were filed at SCI-Camp Hill during the relevant time period. Volciak indicates that in order to comply with Plaintiff's request a manual search of those 982 grievances would have to be undertaken. Based upon the detailed ...


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