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William Victor v. R.M. Lawler

May 18, 2011

WILLIAM VICTOR,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
R.M. LAWLER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

(Judge Nealon) (Magistrate Judge Carlson)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:

This case is a prisoner civil rights lawsuits lodged by the Plaintiff, William Victor, against correctional staff at SCI Huntingdon. In this lawsuit, Victor alleges, inter alia, that he was the victim of staff assaults in June 2008.

Victor has now filed a motion,(Doc. 361) which seeks further rulings and clarification from the Court on a prior motion by Victor for sanctions, for other relief related to alleged spoliation of evidence, and to compel production of materials. (Doc. 169.) This motion was filed by Victor in January of 2010 and has been the subject of two prior rulings by this Court. (Docs. 188 and 213). In these orders we directed an in camera review of certain records, and then ordered redacted copies of those records released to Victor. We also received, and reviewed, supplemental submissions from the Defendants relating to Victor's requests for access to prison policy manuals pertaining to videotaping of cell extractions. (Docs. 217 and 218.) In these submissions, the Defendants objected to the release of these policy manuals and identified a single section of one policy manual which related to videotaping cell extractions, stating:

The Corrections Defendants object to the release of the 6.3.1 Procedures Manual. Most of the Procedures Manual has nothing to do with the issue of when use of force is to videotaped or videotape retention. The only pertinent section is Section 32. The release of the other sections will compromise safety and security within the institution. The same applies to the 6.5.1 ("Administration of Security Level 5 Housing Units") Procedures Manual. (Doc. 217, pp.4 and 5.)

Despite this series of rulings, it appears from Victor's latest pleading that he is still awaiting further decisions on release of prison policies manuals to him and other spoliation sanctions. This order responds to Victor's latest request.

A. Disclosure of Prison Operations Manuals

With respect to Victor's request for copies of the Department of Corrections Policy Manuals 6.5.1 and 6.3.1, which deal with facility safety and security matters, we note that Victor's initial request (Doc. 169) was unaccompanied by any detailed explanation of the relevance of this information to his lawsuit or any limitations in terms of the scope of the request, factors which led the Defendants to object to this request, (Doc. 177) citing the justiable security concerns that the institution would have releasing these sensitive operations manuals to an inmate.

In response to these well-grounded concerns of the Defendants, Victor narrowed and refined his request, (Doc. 183.), explaining that he was seeking limited information which is directly relevant to his spoliation argument involving what are alleged to been missing prison tapes relating to Victor's June 28, 2008 cell extraction, an incident in which it is alleged that Victor's jaw was broken, and relating to the subsequent medical treatment provided to Victor immediately after this cell extraction. Focusing on this incident, and the medical treatment which followed, Victor asserts that he is only seeking those portions of the procedure manuals which provide instruction and guidance on documenting cell extractions and preserving video evidence of those cell extractions. This much narrower request seeks evidence that may be relevant to a fully-informed assessment of Victor's spoliation claims relating to what are conceded to be missing videos from the time period of the cell extraction episode.(Doc. 183.) With its scope narrowed in this fashion, Victor's request is more reasonably calculated to lead to discoverable evidence under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure , which authorizes "discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense" and further defines relevant evidence in the following terms: "Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

It is well-recognized that issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under the Rules are to be resolved, almost exclusively, at the discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). A court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This discretion is guided, however, by certain basic principles. Thus, at the outset, it is clear that Rule 26's broad definition of that which can be obtained through discovery reaches only "non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense". Therefore, valid claims of privilege still cabin and restrict the court's discretion in ruling on discovery issues. Recognizing this fact, when addressing inmate requests for access to prison policy manuals, courts have reconciled the interests of inmate-plaintiffs and corrections officials by rejecting broadly framed requests for access to policy manuals, 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 prison policy manuals which may be relevant to more narrowly tailored discovery demands. Paluch v. Dawson, No. 06-175, 2008 WL 2785638, *3 (M.D. Pa. July 17, 2008).

This is the course we have followed here. Having conducted this in camera review we find that release of the policy manuals themselves would undermine institutional security. Therefore, we will not direct the Defendants to release the policy manuals to Victor, in whole or in part. We recognize, however, that Victor has made a claim of relevance relating specifically to prison cell extraction videotaping policies. Therefore, we will instruct the Corrections Defendants to provide Victor with a declaration which fully and accurately summarizes the cell extraction videotaping policies set forth in Section 32 of the 6.3.1 Procedures Manual, a narrowly tailored disclosure which protects valid institutional security concerns while addressing Victor's proffer fo relevance in this case.

C. Spoliation Sanctions--Missing Prison Tapes

Finally, in his motions, Victor has also sought spoliation sanctions, including a spoliation inference instruction at trial, as a penalty for what he alleges was the deliberate destruction of prison videotapes which he claims would have documented some of the allegations which he has made in this lawsuit. (Docs. 169, 183, 361.) In response, the Defendants conceded that some tapes could not be found, and apparently were destroyed, but argue that spoliation sanctions are inappropriate ...


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