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Rhines v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 2, 2015

GARY RHINES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an action brought by Gary Rhines, an inmate in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, currently housed at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood, in White Deer, Pennsylvania. Along with several hundred other inmates, Rhines sued the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act[1] for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of an incident of food poisoning that occurred at the United States Penitentiary in Canaan, Pennsylvania in June 2011. Many of these lawsuits have been resolved through settlement agreements; in Rhines's case, the parties engaged in mediation but the case did not settle. The United States does not dispute that a salmonella outbreak occurred at USP-Canaan, and that a large number of inmates were sickened as a result. The United States does, however, contest Rhines's claims that he was actually sickened, or that he suffered any damages.

Rhines, who is proceeding pro se, has filed a motion to compel the United States to provide further answers or responses to two discovery requests that he propounded in support of his claims. The United States has objected to each request, and has provided Rhines with an explanation for why the requests are irrelevant or overbroad, or otherwise objectionable. The United States has also explained persuasively for the Court why Rhines's discovery requests, as currently framed, are overly broad, unduly burdensome, and irrelevant, and we agree that Rhines's motion to compel should be denied at this time.[2]

II. DISCUSSION

A. Relevant Legal Standards

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure supplies 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 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). Issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under the Rules are to be resolved, almost exclusively, at the 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-Manrizuez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983).

Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifically provides for the use of written requests for the production of documents as part of the discovery process. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34. The rule also sets forth the process by which the party receiving the discovery request must respond, and authorizes that party to object to particular requests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(C).

Rule 37 authorizes a party to move to compel disclosure if the discovery propounding discovery believes that it has received incomplete or inadequate answers to discover authorized under Rule 26. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. With respect specifically to requests for production of documents and interrogatories, Rule 37 provides:

(B) To Compel a Discovery Response. A party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection. This motion may be made if:
...
(iii) a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted ...

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