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Spotts v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 8, 2014

KELVIN ANDRE SPOTTS, Plaintiff.
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The pro se plaintiff is a federal prisoner who has sued the United States, the prison where he was housed, and a number of individual defendants. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that in June of 2011 the prison served inmates chicken fajitas. According to the plaintiff, the chicken was bad, and was tainted with salmonella bacteria. Consequently, the plaintiff contracted food poisoning, and suffered excruciating pain and symptoms which included headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pains, nausea, chills, vomiting, inability to eat and profuse sweating. Alleging negligence and deliberate indifference on the part of the prison in the preparation and service of this food, the plaintiff seeks damages from the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. ยง 2675, et seq., and as a Bivens constitutional tort action. Spotts also brings an array of other constitutional claims in this action, including retaliation claims and claims arising out of disciplinary matters.

There is a potentially dispositive motion pending in this case, a motion for partial summary judgment, (Doc. 75.), which could substantially effect the scope of this action. This motion, in turn, has inspired a series of competing motions by the parties. For his part, Spotts has moved to stay consideration of this motion until after discovery is concluded in this lawsuit. (Doc. 159.) The defendants have filed a motion for protective order, seeking a stay of discovery until after this motion is resolved. (Doc. 161.) Upon consideration of these competing motions, the defendant's motion for protective order will be GRANTED, (Doc. 161.), and Spotts' motion for a stay will be DENIED (Doc. 159.) but we will permit Spotts, if necessary, to raise these discovery concerns under Rule 56(d) in connection with his response to this motion.

II. Discussion

A. Guiding Principles Governing Discovery Motions Practice

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 to compel discovery, and provides that:

(a) Motion for an Order Compelling Disclosure or Discovery
(1) In General. On notice to other parties and all affected persons, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery....

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a).

The scope of what type of discovery may be compelled under Rule 37 is defined, in turn, by Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides as follows:

(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged 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).

Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which discovery may be compelled, are matters consigned to the court's discretion and judgment. Thus, it has long been held that decisions regarding Rule 37 motions are "committed to the sound discretion of the district court." DiGregorio v. First Rediscount Corp. , 506 F.2d 781, 788 (3d Cir. 1974). Similarly, issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under Rule 26 also rest in the sound discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp. , 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). Thus, a court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery, and whether to compel disclosure of certain information, will be disturbed only upon a showing of an abuse of ...


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