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Hernandez v. Palackovich

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 13, 2014

JOHN A. PALACKOVICH, et al., Defendants


YVETTE KANE, District Judge.

Currently before the Court are Plaintiff Claudio Hernandez's motions to strike certain exhibits submitted by Defendant Weaver in support of his motion for summary judgment (Doc. Nos. 182, 191), Defendant Weaver's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 142), and Defendant Long's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 146). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motions to strike, but will reopen discovery for a period of forty-five (45) days for the limited purpose set forth herein. In addition, the Court will deny the two pending motions for summary judgment without prejudice to renew and supplement within twenty (20) days following the expiration of the discovery period.


Plaintiff Claudio Hernandez filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while confined as an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield ("SCI-Smithfield"). At the time, he was proceeding pro se in this matter. Hernandez is now represented by counsel, and filed an amended complaint on January 28, 2011, setting forth claims of deliberate indifference to medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as well as related claims under Pennsylvania law. (Doc. No. 105.) The only remaining Defendants in this action are SCI-Smithfield Health Care Administrator George Weaver and Dr. Long, prison physician.

On October 28, 2012, Defendant Weaver moved the Court to grant summary judgment in his favor on Plaintiff's amended complaint, and submitted his supporting statement of facts, brief and evidentiary materials. (Doc. Nos. 142-145.) On October 31, 2012, Defendant Long also filed a motion for summary judgment and his documents in support thereof. (Doc. Nos. 146-177.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an unopposed enlargement of time within which to oppose Defendants' motions. He was granted until November 21, 2012, within which to do so. On November 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed his briefs in opposition to Defendants' motions, as well as a motion to strike the Declaration of Tracy Williams submitted in support of the summary judgment motion. (Doc. Nos. 182-184.) On November 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed his brief in support of his motion to strike as well as his answers to Defendants' statements of material facts. (Doc. Nos. 185-187.) Reply briefs with respect to both summary judgment motions were filed on December 5, 2012. (Doc. Nos. 188, 190.) On December 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed a second motion seeking to strike several exhibits attached to Defendant Weaver's reply brief. (Doc. No. 191.) Both motions to strike are fully briefed.


A. The Challenged Exhibits

In Plaintiff's first motion to strike (Doc. No. 182), he challenges Defendant Weaver's submission of the Declaration of Tracy Williams in support of his pending motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 145, Ex. F.) Plaintiff states that the declaration is relevant to Weaver's exhaustion of administrative remedies affirmative defense because Williams is the only witness who can speak to the grievance procedures that may have been available to Plaintiff at SCI-Smithfield with respect to his claims. Plaintiff further argues that Williams is the only witness who could plausibly testify about the DC-ADM 401 Policy Statement in which those grievance procedures are memorialized. According to Plaintiff, any consideration by the Court of the Williams Declaration would be severely prejudicial to him because Williams was never disclosed as a witness during the course of discovery, in violation of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33(b)(3), 26(a)(1)(A)(i) and 26(e).

Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(i) requires a party to disclose "each individual likely to have discoverable information... that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment." Because Weaver failed to disclose Williams as a witness, Plaintiff argues that the declaration should be stricken. He further relies on Rule 37(c) which provides that where a party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required by Rule 26(a), 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. He also argues that Rule 26(e) requires that a party timely supplement disclosure and discovery responses. Moreover, Plaintiff claims that striking the Williams Declaration is warranted because Weaver failed to disclose Williams as witness in response to Interrogatory No. One, which asked Defendant Weaver to "Identify all persons who may possess knowledge, information, or documents, relating to the... denials or defenses you may assert in connection with this action." (Doc. No. 182-4 at 31, 40.) As such, Plaintiff argues that Defendant Weaver cannot now use testimony from this witness that he failed to identify in response to that Interrogatory.[1]

In his second motion to strike, Plaintiff seeks to bar several exhibits submitted with Defendant Weaver's summary judgment reply brief. (Doc. No. 191.) Specifically, he challenges Defendant Weaver's submission of the Declaration of Lisa Hollibaugh, and the following three attachments thereto: a copy of the Inmate Handbook in Spanish (Manual para reclusos); a receipt for the DOC Handbook; and a printout from the DOC's automated Inmate Grievance Tracking System. (Doc. No. 188-1, Exs. A through A-4.) These exhibits all speak to the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies. In contesting the submission of these items, Plaintiff basically raises the identical arguments set forth in his first motion to strike. He claims that Hollibaugh has never been disclosed as a witness or identified in response to Plaintiff's Interrogatory One, and that Defendant Weaver did not produce the exhibits attached to the Hollibaugh Declaration prior to filing his summary judgment reply brief.

B. Analysis

Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the scope of discovery. As set forth above, pursuant to Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(i), a party must, without awaiting a discovery request, provide to the other parties the name and, if know, the address and telephone number of each individual likely to have discoverable information-along with the subjects of that information-that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment. Rule 26(e) provides that a party is "under a duty to supplement or correct the disclosure or response to include information thereafter required if... the party learns that in some material respect the information disclosed is incomplete or incorrect and if the additional or corrective information has not otherwise been made known to the other parties during the discovery process or in writing." Where a party fails, without substantial justification to disclose the information required by Rule 26(a) or 26(e)(1), that party shall not, unless such failure is harmless, be permitted to use as evidence at trial... any witness or information not so disclosed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1).

In considering whether the exclusion of evidence is an appropriate sanction for failure to comply with discovery duties, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the prejudice or surprise of the party against whom the excluded evidence would have been admitted; (2) the ability of the party to cure that prejudice; (3) the extent to which allowing the evidence would disrupt the orderly and efficient trial of the case or other cases in the court; and (4) bad faith or wilfulness in failing to comply with a court order or discovery obligation. Nicholas v. Pennsylvania State Univ. , 227 F.3d 133, 148 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Konstantopoulos v. Westvaco Corp. , 112 F.3d 710, 719 (3d Cir. 1997).

The Court will analyze Plaintiff's pending motions to strike together because they present the same legal issues-two declarations by witnesses addressing the matter of administrative exhaustion and who were not previously disclosed to Plaintiff, along with several supporting documents. In reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties, the court finds that the content contained in the challenged exhibits is clearly relevant to the claims in the amended complaint. Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a prisoner is required to exhaust his available administrative remedies prior to filing any action under Section 1983 or any other federal law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In his original complaint, Plaintiff states that he has exhausted his administrative remedies. He does not specifically mention exhaustion in the amended ...

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