United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff, Roberto Camacho, Jr., through counsel, filed a complaint complaining about events and conditions at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon (SCI-Huntingdon). Camacho later filed a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking confidential contact visits with his attorney. By a separate report and recommendation, we recommend that the motion for a preliminary injunction be denied. In this Order we address the following motions filed by Camacho: (1) a motion in limine for spoliation sanctions; (2) a motion for Rule 11 sanctions; (3) a motion for reconsideration of an order regarding Camacho's change of address; (4) counsel's motion to withdraw as counsel; and (5) counsel's second motion to withdraw as counsel.
II. Background and Procedural History.
Camacho names the following individuals as defendants: (1) R.L. Dean, a kitchen steward; (2) Mr. Hoover, a kitchen steward; (3) Mr. Parks, a kitchen supervisor; (4) Mr. Cook, a unit manager; (5) Paula C. Price, a corrections health care administrator; and (6) Tabb Bickell, the former superintendent at SCI-Huntingdon. Camacho complains that defendant Dean injured Camacho's arm, that he was denied medical treatment for his injured arm, and that after he complained about Dean's action, he was retaliated against. The complaint contains four counts. Count 1 is an Eighth Amendment claim of excessive force against defendant Dean. Count 2 is an Eighth Amendment medical claim against defendants Parks, Hoover, and Price. Count 3 is a First Amendment retaliation claim against defendant Dean. And Count 4 contains failure to supervise claims under the First and Eighth Amendments against defendants Parks, Cook, and Bickell. Camacho seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as declaratory relief and injunctive relief in the form of an order for adequate medical care.
On October 23, 2014, Camacho filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the Court to enjoin the Superintendent at SCI-Huntingdon from refusing to permit his counsel to confer with him in a space suitable for confidential contact visits. Briefing on the motion for a preliminary injunction was extended after Camacho's counsel filed a motion for a preliminary injunction raising similar issues regarding confidential attorney visits at SCI-Huntingdon in a different case- Lane v. Tavares, 3:14-CV-00991 (M.D. Pa.)-and Judge Caputo scheduled a hearing on the motion in Lane. In order to ensure consistency while fairly considering this case on the merits, we ordered the defendants to address in their brief in opposition to the motion for a preliminary injunction in this case the evidence presented at the hearing in front of Judge Caputo in the Lane case and any ruling that Judge Caputo made in that case.
On February 3, 2015, Judge Caputo denied the motion for a preliminary injunction in the Lane case holding that, on the record before him, Lane failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability of success on the merits of his access-to-courts claim or to demonstrate irreparable injury. Following Judge Caputo's decision in the Lane case, Camacho filed a motion to compel the production of videos. In connection with that motion, the defendants argued that Judge Caputo's decision in Lane collaterally estopped Camacho from litigating the issue regarding the conditions for attorney-client visits at SCI-Huntingdon.
At a March 27, 2015 conference with counsel, we rejected the defendants' collateral-estoppel argument because Camacho was not a party, or in privity with a party, in the Lane case. After that conference, we also scheduled a hearing on Camacho's motion for a preliminary injunction. Further, we granted Camacho's motion to compel production to the extent that we ordered the defendants to produce to Camacho's counsel subpoenaed videos of September 14, 2014, October 23, 2014, and November 10, 2014. We further granted Camacho's request for the video of January 17, 2015 to the extent such video exists, and we granted Camacho's request for his counsel to take photographs of the visiting booths at SCI-Huntingdon. We denied the motion to compel production to the extent that it sought sanctions and costs, and we also denied Camacho's request for video of August 30, 3014.
On May 22, 2015, we held a status conference with counsel to go over witnesses and to prepare for the upcoming hearing. At that conference, Camacho's counsel asserted that the defendants had not produced all the videos that the Court had ordered them to produce, and she requested sanctions for spoliation. We directed counsel to raise the issue by a motion. On May 25, 2015, two days before the scheduled hearing, Camacho filed a motion titled "Motion in Limine for Findings of Fact and Sanctions" seeking spoliation sanctions.
On May 28 and 29, 2015, we held a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction. Following the hearing, we ordered the parties to file proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law regarding the motion for a preliminary injunction and supplemental briefs regarding the motion in limine. The parties filed their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and by a separate Report and Recommendation, we recommend that the motion for a preliminary injunction be denied.
Following the hearing, there was also a flurry of other filings by the parties. On May 31, 2015, Camacho's counsel filed a declaration, which the defendants promptly moved to strike. On June 2, 2015, the defendants filed a letter requesting that the Court hold a conference regarding a motion for sanctions that Camacho served but, in accordance with the safe-harbor provision of Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(2), had not yet filed with the Court. We denied the defendants' request for a conference because given the history of the case we concluded that a conference would not be productive. On June 3, 2015, Camacho filed a letter pointing out errors in the exhibit list from the preliminary injunction hearing.
On June 5, 2015, Camacho's counsel filed a letter asserting that Camacho had written to her after the hearing telling her that, during the hearing, corrections officers remained outside the door to the video room where he and some of the other inmate witnesses had testified, and the video operator had turned up the volume to the television. Based on this, Camacho's counsel accused defense counsel of lying to her and to the Court. Camacho's counsel also made accusations of witness intimidation. By an Order dated June 5, 2015, we informed counsel that we will take no action on a letter, which does not comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(b).
Further, we ordered Camacho's counsel's declaration stricken from the record because the time for the presentation of evidence was at the preliminary injunction hearing. Later that same day, Camacho's counsel filed a motion for leave to withdraw her appearance, and she attached to that motion the same declaration that the Court had earlier stricken as well as numerous other exhibits. On June 11, 2015, Camacho's counsel filed a brief in support of her motion for leave to withdraw her appearance. On July 17, 2015, counsel filed another motion for leave to withdraw.
Camacho also filed a motion for reconsideration of an order addressing his request for a change of address, and a motion for Rule 11 sanctions.
III. Motion in Limine for Spoliation Sanctions.
Camacho is seeking spoliation sanctions. He contends that the defendants failed to produce the following videos: (1) video from the outside visiting room on November 10, 2014; (2) videos from the inside visiting room from cameras 212 and 196 from November 10, 2014; and (3) and video from the outside visiting room on January 17, 2015. As to the video from the outside visiting room, Camacho contends that it will show that his counsel was delayed (approximately an hour on November 10, 2014 and approximately 40 minutes on January 17, 2015) entry to the inside visiting room purportedly because of the words she used to request a visit, i.e., she requested a confidential contact visit rather than a regular contact visit in the general visiting area or a legal visit in a noncontact, attorney room. Camacho contends that cameras 212 and 196 in the inside visiting room are high-resolution cameras capable of reading the print on documents, and he requests the court to infer that those cameras were used to do just that during his visit with his counsel on November 10, 2014. Camacho requests that the Court find that the events described in his counsel's preservation letters regarding the missing videos be presumed true for purposes of resolving his preliminary-injunction motion. Camacho also requests that the defendants show cause why they should not be held in contempt and why they should not be required to compensate him for the expenses he incurred because of their misconduct.
On May 27, 2015, the defendants filed a brief in opposition to Camacho's spoliation motion. At the beginning of the hearing, we informed counsel that we needed evidence to decide the motion for spoliation sanctions, and Camacho's counsel informed the court that she would present such evidence at the hearing. Following, the hearing we ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs regarding the motion, and the parties did so on July 1, 2015.
Evidentiary rulings, including rulings regarding whether a spoliation inference is appropriate, rest in the sound discretion of the court. See Ward v. Lamanna, 334 F.Appx. 487, 492 (3d Cir. 2009)("We review the District Court's denial of an evidentiary inference based on spoliation of evidence for abuse of discretion."). That discretion is guided, however, by settled legal tenets, tenets that define both the fundamental nature of spoliation and the appropriate sanctions for acts of spoliation. "Generally, spoliation refers to situations where a party has altered, destroyed, or failed to produce evidence relevant to an issue in a case.'" Omogbehin v. Cino, 485 F.Appx. 606, 610 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Bull v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 665 F.3d 68, 73 (3d Cir. 2012). "Spoliation occurs where: the evidence was in the party's control; the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case; there has been actual suppression or withholding of evidence; ...