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William Victor v. David Varano

May 1, 2012

WILLIAM VICTOR, PLAINTIFF
v.
DAVID VARANO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



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

(Judge Nealon)

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Now pending before the Court in the above-captioned action is Plaintiff William Victor's motion for relief, sanctions, and an order compelling the Defendants to produce documents and other discovery. (Doc. 47.) The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Factual Background

William Victor, an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, currently incarcerated in the Special Management Unit at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill"), commenced the above-captioned action on May 11, 2011. (Doc. 1) Victor amended the complaint on July 12, 2011.*fn1 (Doc. 23) In his amended complaint Victor brought eight claims against more than 20 Defendants, supervisory officials, corrections officers, the Bureau of Health Care Services, the Department of Corrections, and the "Oral Surgeon Staff" at SCI-Coal Township, where Victor was incarcerated when the incidents giving rise to this lawsuit allegedly occurred.*fn2 (Id.)

In his amended complaint, Victor alleges that on May 5, 2010, Defendant Young issued him a misconduct for being out of place, making threats, and refusing a direct order. Victor claims that this misconduct was entirely fabricated in retaliation for Victor's exercise of his "right to secure redress for prison pattern of harassment and oppression." (Id., Claim #2.) Victor further alleges that on July 13, 2010, he was issued another false misconduct for refusing to accept a settlement offer that the Department of Corrections extended to him in an effort to resolve Victor's claims brought in a separate federal lawsuit pending before this Court, Civil Action No. 08-1374.*fn3 With respect to this incident, Victor claims that Defendants Young, Rudon, and Baumbach falsely accused Victor of flooding his cell, which resulted in the water to Victor's cell being shut off for seven days. (Id., Claim #3.)

In his fourth claim, Victor alleges that on March 24, 2011, Defendants Greene, Fanella, Novallis, and Weidensaul "trashed" his cell during a search that was undertaken in an effort to destroy evidence in Civil Action No. 08-1374, and that it was acknowledged that the documents were destroyed accidentally. (Id., Claim #4.) Victor claims that "subsequent efforts to secure compensation via Varano and Dascani were met with threats, hostility and an offer of fifty dollars which [Victor] refused," apparently at least in part because Victor showed prison officials that he had already spent nearly $200 on court fees and in excess of $200 on copying charges from the prison library. (Id.) Victor casts this as a claim for First Amendment retaliation, and for violations of his right of access to the courts. (Id.)

Victor next claims that on April 28, 2011, Defendants Kitchen and Dalton "used deliberate and unnecessary force," and assaulted him, during the course of escorting Victor from the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI-Coal to the law library, and threatened Victor for filing complaints against other prison staff and "witnessing abuse on others." (Id., Claim #5.) Victor claims that despite his having been assaulted, no prison official contacted the medical department at SCI-Coal for two hours, when a mental health worker came to see him. (Id.) On the basis of these averments, Victor claims that these Defendants subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. (Id.)

Next, Victor alleges that Defendants Sidler, Schuster, Michael, Varano, and Ellett deprived him of mental health treatment, and refused to protect his confidentiality in mental-health matters by "revealing the content of [his] suffering to non-mental health staff and RHU prisoners & doing so by entering RHU units at cells [he] [has] been housed in since [his] stay at Coal 2/17/10 to and through the date of this [filing] and loudly speaking on the matters of [his] suffering." (Id., Claim #6.) Victor claims that this has resulted in other inmates ridiculing him. (Id.) In addition, Victor claims that the Defendants will not transfer him to another program within the Department of Corrections, available at other prisons, where he could be treated for his mental illness. (Id.) Victor casts this claim as one of deliberate indifference to his medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id.)

In his seventh claim for relief, Victor alleges that the dental department at SCI-Coal Township, its oral surgeon, and the Bureau of Health Care Services have been deliberately indifferent to the injury he suffered in June 2008 while housed at SCI-Huntingdon, when he sustained a broken jaw during a cell extraction. That incident is the subject of Victor's separate litigation in Civil Action No. 08-1374. (Id., Claim #7.) Victor claims that he continues to suffer from serious pain, loss of sleep, and has difficulty eating and drinking. Victor alleges that prison officials have been dismissive or indifferent to his pain and suffering. (Id.)

Finally, Victor claims that on May 11, 2011, Defendants Allen and Kitchen "conspired to plant contraband in the exercise yard in the RHU," and Defendant Allen issued him a misconduct that Victor claims was fabricated, in retaliation for Victor filing a complaint against Defendant Kitchen for allegedly assaulting and threatening him on April 28, 2011. (Id., Claim #8.) In connection with this claim, Victor alleges that he had been trying to maintain positive housing reports so that he could work towards being released from the RHU, but instead he was given an additional 90 days of restricted housing time. (Id.)

B. Plaintiff's Motion for Relief, Sanctions, and to Compel

Plaintiff filed the instant motion seeking sanctions and an order compelling Defendants to produce discovery in this case that he argues will support his claims against Defendants Young, Rudon, and Baumbach. (Doc. 47) Specifically, Victor argues that he is entitled to sanctions against the Corrections Defendants for what he alleges was the "deliberate destruction of relevant video evidence timely sought to support claims" against these three Defendants. (Id.) Plaintiff also complains that Defendant Dascani, with the help of Defendants' counsel, has frustrated his attempts to secure discovery by delaying production for no legitimate reason. Victor alleges that he was supposed to receive discovery by September 15, 2011, but Defendants failed to make a timely production. (Id.)

In his brief, Plaintiff asserts that he requires the following evidence from Defendants, which was not produced: (1) log book entries reflecting the times in the RHU at SCI-Coal Township when he was escorted to and from the exercise yard on May 5, 2010, and May 11, 2010; (2) all DC-17X entries relating to Plaintiff from the time he arrived at SCI-Coal through the date of the amended complaint; (3) a category of discovery he describes as "claims from the 5/5/10, 7/13/10, 3/24/11, 4/28/11, 5/11/11 claims to support claims and secure relevant evidence and secure witnesses"; (4) all handheld footage of all escorts of Plaintiff from April 28, 2011, through the date of the amended complaint "to search and secure evidence to support abuse and retaliation claims"; (5) all medical documents relating to injuries "in this matter"; (6) a list of all past and present civil actions involving any of the defendants, and the results of those actions; (7) copies of comments and reports that mental health staff made regarding the Plaintiff between February 17, 2010, through the date of the amended complaint. (Doc. 48, at 2) Plaintiff also urges this Court to undertake an in camera inquiry into the Department of Corrections' policies governing the preservation of handheld video footage "when a warden orders a RHU prisoner to be video taped any time he is removed from cell and escorted anywhere in facility ...." (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff seeks color photographs taken following the April 28, 2011, incident during which he alleges he was assaulted by Defendant Kitchen, as well as the handheld footage from that day following the incident. (Id.)

Defendants respond that there is no basis for an order compelling further discovery production, or sanctions in this case. Instead, Defendants represent that they have produced responsive discovery, and have otherwise properly responded to Victor's discovery demands, and continue to do so with respect to supplemental requests that Victor has made. Defendants also argue that although Victor was not able to review the discovery prior to September 15, 2011, they note he did review the documents for several hours over the following two weeks. Defendants note that arrangements were being made to permit Victor review produced medical records for a reasonable amount of time. (Doc. 50, at 8-9) With respect to other discovery requests, Defendants maintain that the discovery Victor seeks is simply unavailable, such as videotapes that were recycled in the ordinary course of business because they did not reveal any significant incidents. With respect to a smaller category of discovery requests, Defendants have objected on the basis of relevance, undue burden, and privacy concerns. We discuss these issues below.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standards Governing Motions to Compel Discovery

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure defines both the scope and limitations governing the use of discovery in a federal civil action:

(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). This motion, and the Defendants' response in opposition to this motion, call upon the Court to exercise its authority under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure to regulate discovery in this case. Issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under the Rules rest in the sound 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. Furthermore, the scope of discovery permitted by Rule 26 embraces all "relevant information" a concept which is defined in the following terms: "Relevant ...


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