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Chad B. Dickson v. James Mcgrady

September 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)


Before the Court is a renewed motion to compel discovery filed by Chad B. Dickson ("Dickson"), the plaintiff in the above civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter proceeds on the original complaint and a supplement thereto. (Doc. Nos. 1, 9.) Named as Defendants are James McGrady, Superintendent at SCI-Retreat, and seven additional SCI-Retreat employees.*fn1 Following resolution of Defendants' motion to dismiss, the only remaining claim is Dickson's access to the courts claim pertaining to Defendants' confiscation of his legal materials which prevented him from litigating his criminal matter in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. This claim proceeds against all Defendants, with the exception of Defendant Grady who has been dismissed from this matter. (Doc. No. 40.) For the reasons that follow, the motion to compel discovery will be granted in part and denied in part. In addition, a deadline for the filing of dispositive motions will be imposed.

I. Background

Dickson maintains that Defendant Miller confiscated his legal papers, including a legal discovery packet relevant to his criminal trial held in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, on March 12 and 13, 2008. According to Dickson, Miller engaged in this conduct because he is a party in the Cambria County case. Due to Miller's actions, Dickson claims he was unable to use the confiscated papers to prepare for, and as evidence in, his pro se county trial. (Doc. No. 1, Compl. at 2.) He further alleges that Miller gave orders to Defendant Hall to conduct cell searches to remove specific legal papers, which in turn were provided to Defendants Miller and Pall. Defendants Pall, Sweeney, Novack and Lanning are also alleged to have confiscated Dickson's legal papers, and to have provided them to Miller. (Id.)

Dickson further alleges that when he would send documents to the law library for copying, Defendant Burns would provide the documents to Miller. When the papers were returned to Plaintiff 1-3 days later, some of them would be missing. It is also alleged that Defendant Lanning had a trash bag filled with legal work, papers and discovery from Plaintiff's Cambria County trial, and that he wrote a confiscation slip referencing only some of these documents. Based upon the foregoing, Plaintiff claims that Defendants interfered with his legal research and his attempts to present an adequate defense in his Cambria County criminal trial. He states that this conduct resulted in his conviction and sentence of incarceration. (Doc. 9, Suppl. Compl. at 1.)

On April 11, 2012, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order addressing several discovery-related motions that were pending on the docket at the time. (Doc. No. 126.) The original scheduling order issued in this case directed that all discovery be completed on or before April 18, 2011, with any dispositive motions to be filed by May 18, 2011. (Doc. No. 70.) At Defendants' request, these deadlines were enlarged on two occasions resulting in a discovery deadline of May 14, 2011, and dispositive motions due on or before June 14, 2011. In the decision of April 11, 2012, the Court accepted a renewed motion to compel discovery filed by Dickson on September 1, 2011, and directed the Defendants to respond thereto. The parties were further advised that following the resolution of said motion, a new dispositive motions deadline would be imposed. The renewed motion to compel is fully briefed, and presently before the Court for consideration.

Plaintiff states that he has served Defendants with a total of three (3) sets of Interrogatories, two (2) sets of Requests for Production of Documents, and three (3) sets of Requests for Admissions. In the pending renewed motion to compel, he sets forth three (3) issues. He first argues that Defendants have failed to respond to his third set of Interrogatories and his third Request for the Production of Documents. He contends that he submitted the requests by May 13, 2011, and thus timely, but that they were returned to him in the mail for insufficient postage. He claims he remailed them to Defendants on June 14, 2011, and argues that he cannot be held accountable for the timeliness of the mail service.

Plaintiff next challenges Defendants' responses to his second set of Requests for Admissions. Defendants challenged the Requests on the basis that several of them were duplicative of Plaintiff's first set of Requests for Admissions, and also because they constituted interrogatory questions seeking answers, rather than requests calling for Defendants to either admit or deny. Finally, Plaintiff challenges Defendants' responses to ten (10) questions set forth in his first set of Interrogatories. The Court will address each of these arguments.

III. Applicable Legal Standards

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).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 addresses the matter of failure to make disclosures or to cooperate in discovery and the possibility of sanctions. Specifically, if a party served with discovery fails to respond adequately, the serving party may file a motion to compel under Rule 37(a). 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. One crucial component of the court's discretion is that the court must set schedules for the completion of discovery. When a party fails to abide by those schedules the court has the right, and the duty, to impose sanctions for that failure. Those sanctions may, in the discretion of the court, include declining a party's request to compel compliance with untimely and improper discovery demands. As such, where a party has submitted an untimely request, the court can, and in the exercise of its discretion often should, refuse to compel compliance with that request. See, e.g., Maslanka v. Johnson & Johnson, 305 F. App'x ...

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