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Ernest Jack Hill, Iii v. Harley Lappin

June 6, 2012


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

(Judge Kosik)


I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This case is a civil rights action brought by a federal prisoner, Ernest Jack Hill, against federal prison officials, alleging that these prison officials have been deliberately indifferent to Hill's serious medical needs. The plaintiff in this case, Ernest Jack Hill, III, is an inmate who reportedly suffers from an array of emotional and physical challenges. Over the past several years, medical personnel in at least three federal prisons have examined Hill, treated him on dozens of occasions, and diagnosed the complex combination of emotional maladies and physical symptoms which he presents to his care-givers. The nature and extent of this treatment is undisputed; indeed, Hill has meticulously documented and identified literally dozens of medical encounters which he has had with prison staff, often on a weekly basis, over the past two years.

Despite these undisputed efforts, Hill contends that prison officials have nonetheless been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. This claim of deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's medical needs appears, in part, to turn on a broadly-framed dispute between Hill and his care-givers regarding one specific form of treatment for the anxiety and panic disorders which plague the plaintiff, the use of a particular class of anti-anxiety medications to treat this condition. In addition to these broadly cast constitutional claims, Hill leveled one other, more specific and narrowly tailored allegation in his second amended complaint. According to Hill, on three specific instances between February and July of 2010, two correctional staff, Lieutenant Novak and Correctional Officer Acevedo, ignored medical emergencies experienced by Hill late at night or in the early morning hours, and deliberately allowed the plaintiff to lay on the floor of his cell, suffering acute distress for hours before summoning outside medical assistance. (Doc. 27, pp.29-30)

After making these allegations, Hill's second amended complaint casts a broad web of culpability, naming twenty-four individual defendants. These individual defendants include the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin; five medical personnel employed at the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute;*fn1 as well as prison medical personnel stationed in Springfield, Missouri, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Waseca, Minnesota.*fn2 Hill then levels a series of claims against fifteen defendants employed at the United States Penitentiary, Canaan. These defendants range from the warden at this facility, Ronnie Holt, to a corrections lieutenant, correctional officers, along with prison medical and psychological staff. After naming 24 defendants in his complaint, Hill seeks damages from only 11 of these defendants. (Doc. 27, pp.29-31) Hill's prayer for damages, like much of the balance of his complaint, is sweeping in its reach, with Hill demanding $500,000 in compensatory damages, and $1,500,000 in punitive damages from each of these defendants. (Id.)

Hill has been provided an opportunity to complete discovery in aid of these claims, and in order to permit the plaintiff to address a pending, and potentially dispositive, defense motion. Hill has taken full advantage of this discovery opportunity, propounded numerous, multi-faceted discovery demands upon the defendants, and is now embroiled in a discovery dispute with the defendants. This dispute relates both to the adequacy of defense responses to multiple requests for admission served by Hill, as well as the timeliness of the delivery of other discovery responses to Hill.

The defendants have responded to Hill's various discovery motions, acknowledging a brief delay in the delivery of some discovery, while asserting that Hill has now received a response to all of his 35 discovery demands. Indeed, the defendants note that they have provided Hill discovery beyond that required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For example, Hill complained that the defendants failed to make initial disclosures to him under Rule 26. The defendants, however, have responded by noting both that they have made such disclosures, and by aptly observing that Hill is not entitled to such disclosure under Rule 26(a)(1)(B).

Beyond these arguments concerning the timing of discovery which has now been tendered to Hill, the plaintiff's principal complaint in these discovery motions is that the defendants have not adequately responded to his multiple requests for admission. With respect to this contention, the defendants have filed a carefully documented response which details each of Hill's requests for admission, and the defendants' responses to these requests for admission. (Doc. 136) The defendants contend, with some substantial justification, that many of Hill's requests for admission were prolix, argumentative, confusing and embraced compound subjects, actors, events and assertions. Notwithstanding these flaws in the requests for admission, the defendants note that they responded to each request, admitting what they could, denying what was beyond their capacity to admit, and objecting to those portions of these requests which were improper.

These various competing discovery motions have now been fully briefed by the parties, and are ripe for resolution. Having reviewed these pleadings, for the reasons set forth below, Hill's discovery motions, (Docs. 104, 110, 111, 112, 114), and motion for sanctions (Doc. 131) will be denied.

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 for sanctions, and provides that:

(c) Failure to Disclose, to Supplement an Earlier Response, or to Admit.

(1) Failure to Disclose or Supplement. If a party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required by Rule 26(a) or (e), the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless. In addition to or ...

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