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Pulchalski v. Franklin County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 5, 2017

BRUCE PULCHALSKI, Plaintiff
v.
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Defendant

          Kane Judge

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Factual Background

         This is an employment discrimination action. The plaintiff initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint against Franklin County on June 13, 2015. (Doc. 1.) In this complaint the plaintiff alleges that he was formerly employed at the Franklin County Jail, and he claims that other employees at the jail discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

         The parties are now embroiled in a discovery dispute, with the plaintiff alleging that defendants have failed to provide required discovery in response to the interrogatories served upon them, and the defendants insisting that the plaintiff has issued excessive and improper discovery demands. (Docs. 35 and 36.) Specifically, the defendant contends that the plaintiff has exceeded the 25 interrogatory limit set by Rule 33 by filing a set of interrogatories which contain numerous independent sub-parts, and then further compounding the compound nature of the interrogatories by sub-dividing many of these sub-parts into multiple sub-subsections.

         An examination of the interrogatories reveals that there is merit to the defendant's concerns. While the plaintiff has listed only 13 interrogatories, the 13 interrogatories are broadly grouped around general subject matter headings. Of these 13 interrogatories, 10 are then divided into numerous sub-parts which pose discrete questions concerning each of the broad subject matter headings. Thus, when the total number of sub-parts set forth in these 13 interrogatories are separately counted, the total number of interrogatories and sub-parts approaches some 39 queries. Furthermore, many of these interrogatories, or interrogatory sub-part, in turn, are divided into numerous subsections. Indeed, by our count there may be as many as 26 sub-sections contained within these interrogatories, or interrogatory sub-parts. Thus, the total number of separate, discrete factual inquiries contained within the body of these interrogatories may be as many as 65 independent inquiries. Viewed in this light, the interrogatories are more akin to a deposition on written questions.

         Following an initial conference with counsel, and in order to address these issues, we ordered that the parties' submissions on this discovery dispute be deemed to be a motion to compel, (Doc. 35.) and motion for protective order (Doc. 36.) respectively. We then instructed the parties to initially brief the question of whether the discovery demands in this matter are excessive in that they violate the discovery limitations prescribed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have complied with this direction, fully briefing their positions on this matter. Accordingly, these motions are ripe for resolution.

         For the reasons set forth below, we will grant the defendant's motion for protective order, and will not require the defendant to respond to these excessive interrogatories beyond the responses which the defendant initially provided. However, recognizing that our after-the-fact assessment of whether the manner in which these interrogatories were structured violated the limitations prescribed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may hobble the plaintiff in preparing his case, we will allow the plaintiff leave to propound 12 additional, narrowly tailored interrogatories.

         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. Fed. ...


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