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Whetstone v. Bohinski

April 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

(Judge Kosik)

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)


I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This is a civil rights action brought by Dwight Whetstone, a state inmate. In his complaint, Whetstone, who is proceeding pro se, named a number of medical staff and health care providers as Defendants, alleging that these staff violated his constitutional rights when they demonstrated deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs following a December 31, 2006 weight lifting injury suffered by Whetstone in the prison.

In March 2010 this Court considered a Motion to Compel filed by Whetstone which sought further discovery responses from the remaining Defendants in this case. (Doc. 58.) Specifically, in this motion Whetstone sought the following four general categories of information: First, Whetstone sought access to his own medical records relating to the treatment he received arising out of this December 31, 2006 injury.

Second, Whetstone sought access to his own psychiatric records, in order to demonstrate that he was not regarded as a malingerer or problematic inmate at the time of this injury. Third, Whetstone requested information relating to the prison's handling of administrative complaints which he submitted relating to this incident. Fourth, Whetstone also requested records of other inmate complaints regarding indifference to their medical needs lodged against the Defendants from December 2006 through November 2009, as part of an effort to determine whether the treatment he received was part of a pattern of conduct by the Defendants.

On March 3, 2010 we entered an opinion and order which granted Whetstone's motion, in part, and denied it, in part. (Doc. 66). Specifically, we instructed the Defendants to provide Whetstone with access to his own medical records; his own prior institutional complaints; and portions of his own prior psychiatric records, subject to some limitations. (Id.)

As for Whetstone's request for access to other contemporaneous prison grievances relating to these Defendants, in our March 3 opinion and order we found that there may well be information in other inmate grievances which would be admissible under Rule 404(b) of the federal Rules of Evidence as proof of "motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident...." Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). However, no judgment on the relevance and admissibility of this evidence could be made in the abstract, and any assessment of these issues would involve a multi-faceted and fact-specific analysis of both the proffered evidence and the party's claims.

Recognizing that these prison records may contain discoverable material, we noted that in the past courts have reconciled the interests of inmate-plaintiffs and corrections officials by rejecting broadly framed requests for access to prison records, see Paluch v. Dawson, No. 06-1751, 2007 WL 4375937, *4-5 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2007), while conducting an in camera review of those records which may be relevant to more narrowly tailored discovery demands. Paluch v. Dawson, No. 06-1751, 2008 WL 2785638, *3 (M.D. Pa. July 17, 2008). We then adopted this course, and directed the Defendants to provide to the Court for its in camera inspection any other responsive inmate grievances submitted between December 2006 and November 2009, citing the Defendants for medical mistreatment, indifference or neglect, so we could determine: (1) whether this information is relevant to the issues raised in this case; (2) whether it is subject to any valid claim of privilege recognized by the Federal Rules; and, (3) to what extent, in what format, and under what conditions it may be released to the Plaintiff.

The Defendants have now filed motions asking us to reconsider this aspect of our March 3 order. (Docs. 67 and 70.) These motions reveal that, as to Defendant Evelyn Smith, a computerized search discloses that no grievances were filed against Smith by inmates between December 2006 and November 2009. Thus, as to Smith, this reply fully addresses Whetstone's request.

With respect to Defendants Stanish and Bohinski, the Defendants allege that compliance with the Court's order would require a manual inspection of 552 grievances, a process which the Defendants estimate would take 50 hours to complete. Citing the burden which this review would impose upon the Defendants, and a district court opinion in Lyons v. Beard, No. 3:CV-07-2278 (M.D. Pa. March 8, 2010)*fn1 which considered the burdens of a manual grievance search in another prison case, the Defendants urge us to reconsider our prior ruling and relieve them from the responsibility of conducting this manual search.

This matter has been fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 67, 68, 70, 71, 74, 75) and is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's motions to ...

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