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Harris v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 8, 2013



A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is an action brought by a pro se prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 in which he challenges his sentence calculation by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and his receipt of a retaliatory misconduct. (Doc. 43, Second Am. Compl.) Specifically, Mr. Harris asserts that several of his Pennsylvania sentences should have been calculated by the DOC as running concurrent with, rather than consecutive to, the sentence he was serving in Virginia.

Presently before the court are three discovery related motions. The first two motions, filed by Mr. Harris, are motions to compel discovery. (Docs. 40 and 44.) The third motion, filed by defendants, is a motion for sanctions for costs related to a properly noticed deposition in which Mr. Harris refused to participate. (Doc. 56.) For the reasons set forth below, all three motions will be denied.

II. Standard of Review

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enable parties to obtain information by serving request for discovery upon each other, including interrogatories and requests for production of documents. See generally Fed.R.Civ.P. 26-37. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 provides for a broad scope of discovery:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense... 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "[T]herefore, all relevant material is discoverable unless an applicable evidentiary privilege is asserted. The presumption that such matter is discoverable, however, is defeasible. Rule 26(c) grants federal judges the discretion to issue protective orders that impose restrictions on the extent and manner of discovery where necessary to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.' Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)." Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 65 (3d Cir. 2000). Matters relating to discovery are generally left to the discretion of the trial court. See Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 34 requires that a party served with a document request either produce the requested documents or state a specific objection for each item or category objected to. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4); Momah v. Albert Einstein Medical Center, 164 F.R.D. 412, 417 (E.D.Pa. 1996). "Mere recitation of the familiar litany that an interrogatory or a document production request is overly broad, burdensome, oppressive and irrelevant' will not suffice." Id. ( quoting Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992 (3d Cir.1982)). The objecting party must demonstrate in specific terms why a particular discovery request does not fall within the broad scope of discovery or is otherwise privileged or improper. Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F.Supp. 255, 258 (E.D. Pa. 1982). Parties "seeking the protection of sensitive-but relevant-information" may argue the information sought is protected by an evidentiary privilege pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or petition the court for a protective order pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c) to protect its disclosure. Pearson, 211 F.3d at 65.

To support a claim of privilege, the government must fulfill three requirements: (1) the head of the agency must personally review the material; (2) there must be a specific designation and description of the documents claimed to be privileged; and (3) there must be precise reasons for preserving the confidentiality of the documents. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(A)(ii); United States v. O'Neill, 619 F.2d 222, 225-226 (3d Cir. 1980). A party seeking to obtain a protective order must demonstrate "good cause" for the order of protections. See Smith v. Bic Corp., 869 F.2d 194, 199 (3d Cir. 1989); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). Again, "[b]road allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning, " do not support a showing of "good cause." Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1121 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 976 , 108 S.Ct. 487, 98 L.Ed.2d 485 (1987). In determining whether the moving party has established "good cause" for the issuance of a protective order, federal courts have generally adopted a balancing process whereby "the requesting party's need for information [is balanced] against the injury that might result if uncontrolled disclosure is compelled." Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 787 (1994).

If the party served fails to respond adequately to a document request, the serving party may file a motion to compel under Rule 37(a). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(A). Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 also authorizes a district court to sanction a party for failure to obey an order compelling disclosure, and failing to appear for his own deposition, serve answers or objections to interrogatories, or respond to a request for inspection of documents. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2), (c) and (d). Among the available sanctions is dismissal of the action against the disobedient party, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(v).

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).

III. Discussion

A. Mr. Harris' Motion to Compel ...

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