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Alan Smith v. Janine Donate

December 20, 2011


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

(Judge Rambo)



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 there. 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. Thirteen of the defendants are represented by a single lawyer, whereas Defendant Zologa, who allegedly provided medical services to the prison, is represented by separate counsel.

Now pending before the Court is plaintiff's motion to compel defendant Shanley to respond to two interrogatories seeking (1) the names of witnesses or staff identified or involved in a Lackawanna County Prison incident report dated November 21, 2008 and (2) the names of the trainees listed in the same incident report. (Doc. 115) Plaintiff has supported the motion with a brief in support (Doc. 116), in which he recites the necessity for the information sought, provides details explaining the conditions of his custody in state prison that have impaired his ability to prepare documents in this litigation, and asserting his belief that the discovery that he seeks to compel in this motion was timely filed in accordance with the case management deadlines governing this action. (Doc. 116) Defendants have filed a brief in opposition to the motion, in which they simply maintain that the two interrogatories propounded upon defendant Shanley were served after the discovery deadline had expired, and therefore no response was due. (Doc. 121) Plaintiff has filed a reply brief in further support of the motion. (Doc. 134) Upon consideration, we will treat the motion to compel as a motion to enlarge the discovery deadlines to permit plaintiff to propound the two final interrogatories upon defendant Shanley, and we will grant such limited relief.


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 ...

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