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Hagan v. Dolphin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 1, 2015

DAMONT HAGAN, Plaintiff
v.
QUENTIN DOLPHIN, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

The plaintiff in this action, Damont Hagan, is an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, (DOC) currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon. He is also a frequent litigant in federal court. In this case, Hagan has sued five individuals, all of whom are contracted with or employed by the DOC, alleging that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to modify his health diagnosis and discontinue his prescription medications in order to keep him hidden from certain Department of Justice officials who were intending to tour the facility and interview inmates as part of an investigation. Hagan also alleges that the defendants took these actions to retaliate against him for filing grievances and other litigation against prison staff. Additionally, Hagan alleges that the defendants prolonged his detention in segregated housing, and exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

This case now comes before the court for resolution of a discovery dispute. Specifically, Hagan has filed a motion to compel which seeks access to what he describes as documents contained among his medical records which allegedly identify Hagan as a security risk due to his focus on litigation. (Doc. 66.) The defendants have responded by arguing that the disclosure of these documents would entail release of information pertaining to sensitive security matters, and that Hagan has not shown that the documents sought are relevant. (Doc. 71.) This motion is now fully briefed by the parties. (Docs. 67, 71, and 78.) Upon consideration of the motion to compel, the motion will be denied, in part, and granted, in part, as follows: The defendant will be directed to produce for in camera inspection any previously non-disclosed medical and related reports described by Hagan, so the court may assess their relevance and any claims of privilege relating to these documents.

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 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 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which now provides that:

(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 the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence

Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule 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 discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This far-reaching discretion extends to rulings by United States Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:

District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J.1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary [discovery] matter..., "courts in this district have determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an abuse of discretion standard." Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D.Pa.2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D.Pa.1996)). Under that standard, a magistrate judge's discovery ruling "is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion." Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J.1996); see also Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45 (N.D.N.Y.1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather ...

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