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Alan Smith v. Janine Donate

November 17, 2011

ALAN SMITH,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANINE DONATE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Judge Rambo

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

In this action, Plaintiff Alan Smith, a state inmate who was previously held in the custody of the Lackawanna County Prison, has sued 14 individuals who were either employed by, or otherwise provided services to, the prison during the period Smith was housed at this facility. Plaintiff alleges that these 14 defendants violated his constitutional rights by subjecting him to harassment, excessive force, and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs during his incarceration.

This case now comes before the Court for resolution of a discovery dispute. Specifically, Smith has filed a motion to compel the production of four categories of information: First, Smith seeks production of portions of the personnel files of the defendants, in particular "documents pertaining to allegations of misconduct, complaints, grievances, made against the Defendants past and present" and specifically seeks personnel file information relating to prior excessive force claims leveled against the defendants. Second, Smith requests production of the prison unit log for the period from November 20, 2008 through January 5, 2009. Third, Smith demands information concerning the make, model, and purchase date for the video camera used to videotape the plaintiff's cell extraction on November 21, 2008. Fourth, Smith requests interior photographs of the prison. (Docs. 90 and 91)

The defendants have responded to this motion, noting as follows: First, with respect to Smith's request for production of the prison unit log for the period from November 20, 2008, through January 5, 2009, the defendants state that they have provided plaintiff with a copy of excerpts of the Log Book entries from November 20, 2008, to January 5, 2009, the time period for which the plaintiff was incarcerated and which is the subject time period for this lawsuit. Second, as for Smith's demand for information concerning the make, model, a purchase date for the video camera used to videotape the plaintiff's cell extraction on November 21, 2008, the defendants have indicated that no video tape of the cell extraction exists. Therefore, the defendants take the position that what type of video camera the prison has or when it was purchased is irrelevant. Third, with regard to Smith's requests for interior photographs of the prison, the defendants resist producing these photographs prior to trial for security reasons, but have agreed to produce these photographs for the plaintiff at the time of trial. Finally, with respect to Smith's request for access to other disciplinary or personnel files documenting misconduct or excessive force claims leveled against individuals defendants, the defendants have objected to this request on relevance grounds.

Smith has now filed a reply brief, (Doc. 103), which concedes that the defendants' offer of access to photographs at trial satisfied his request for these photographs. Smith, however, continues to pursue his other discovery requests, arguing: (1) that he has received only excerpts from the prison log books; (2) contending that he still needs information regarding the make and model of the prison video camera; and (3) insisting that his request for "documents pertaining to allegations of misconduct, complaints, grievances, made against the defendants past and present" which specifically seeks personnel file information relating to prior excessive force claims leveled against the defendants, is calculated to lead to relevant and admissible evidence.

The parties have briefed their respective positions on these discovery disputes. (Docs. 90, 91, 98 and 103). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for resolution. Having reviewed these pleadings, for the reasons set forth below, Smith's motions will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

II. Discussion

Several basic guiding principles inform our resolution of the instant discovery dispute. At the outset, Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions to compel discovery, and provides that:

(a) Motion for an Order Compelling Disclosure or Discovery

(1) In General. On notice to other parties and all affected persons, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery. . . . Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a).

The scope of what type of discovery may be compelled under Rule 37 is defined, in turn, by Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides as follows:

(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: 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 other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)( C ). Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1)

Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which discovery may be compelled, are matters consigned to the court's discretion and judgment. Thus, it has long been held that decisions regarding Rule 37 motions are "committed to the sound discretion of the district court." DiGregorio v. First Rediscount Corp., 506 F.2d 781, 788 (3d Cir. 1974). Similarly, issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under Rule 26 also rest in the sound discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). Thus, a court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery, and whether to compel disclosure of certain information, 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 far-reaching discretion extends to rulings by United States Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:

District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J.1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary [discovery] matter . . . , "courts in this district have determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an abuse of discretion standard." Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D.Pa.2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D.Pa.1996)). Under that standard, a magistrate judge's discovery ruling "is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion." Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J.1996); see also Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45 (N.D.N.Y.1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather ...


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