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Smith v. Rogers

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 9, 2017

HARRY G. SMITH, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
LLOYD GENE ROGERS, JR., MARK YINGLING, RAY BAKER, BROOKE ECHARD, JOSEPH FOX, JUSTIN SHRIVER, PAUL KIFER, MICHAEL M. JOHNSTON, and BLAIR COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KIM R. GIBSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this civil-rights case, Harry G. Smith, Jr., has sued Blair County, Pennsylvania, several Blair County corrections officers, and the warden of Blair County's prison. He alleges that defendants violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Smith has also sued one of the corrections officers-Lloyd Gene Rogers, Jr.-for willful misconduct, purportedly under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8550.[1] Pending before the Court is Smith's motion to compel discovery from Blair County (ECF No. 25). For the reasons that follow, Smith's motion to compel is GRANTED IN PART and DEFERRED IN PART.

         I. Background

         Because this memorandum opinion addresses only Smith's motion to compel, only the facts relevant to that motion are included here.

         On October 12, 2015, Smith filed this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8850. Smith's suit stems from an incident that occurred on November 11, 2014, at the Blair County prison, where Smith was incarcerated at the time. He alleges that during that incident (1) Rogers used excessive force against Smith, (2) that the other corrections officers named as defendants were present and failed to intervene, (3) that the warden acted with deliberate indifference to Smith's personal safety by allowing the excessive force to occur and continuing to assign Rogers to Smith's prison block, and (4) that the warden and corrections officers acted pursuant to a custom or policy of Blair County. As to Blair County's liability, Smith states that the actions of the warden and corrections officers “[were] normal, routine and/or predictable conduct that was encouraged, approved, accepted and/or acknowledged by Defendant Blair County.” (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 93-97.) Smith argues that defendants' actions violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

         II. Jurisdiction & Venue

         This Court has jurisdiction over Smith § 1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because those claims arise under the Constitution and laws of the United States. To the extent Smith is asserting a claim under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8550-and assuming that claim is cognizable-this Court has supplemental jurisdiction over that claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 because it is so related to the § 1983 claims that it is part of the same case or controversy. Further, because a substantial part of the events giving rise to Smith's claims-namely the November 11, 2014 incident at the Blair County prison-occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania, venue is proper in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) defines the scope of discovery as “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” A matter is relevant if “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and . . . the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” See Fed. R. Evid. 401. In determining whether discovery is proportional to the needs of the case, courts must consider “the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         Furthermore, “[i]nformation within [the] scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id. But although the right to discovery under the Federal Rules is broad, “this right is not unlimited and may be circumscribed.” Bayer AG v. Betachem, Inc., 173 F.3d 188, 191 (3d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). The scope of discovery once included information that was “reasonably calculated” to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence, but Rule 26 as amended no longer includes this language. Grant Heilman Photography, Inc. v. McGraw-Hill Cos., No. 12-cv-2061, 2016 WL 687176, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 19, 2016) (“The Court notes that the ‘reasonably calculated' justification for discovery no longer exists in Rule 26, by virtue of amendments which became effective as of December 1, 2015.”).

         Rule 37 provides the mechanism to compel discovery from a person or party who refuses to provide discovery. The party moving to compel discovery under Rule 37 bears the initial burden of proving the relevance of the material requested. See Morrison v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 203 F.R.D. 195, 196 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citations omitted). If the movant meets this initial burden, the burden then shifts to the party resisting discovery to establish that discovery of the material requested is inappropriate. Momah v. Albert Einstein Med. Ctr., 164 F.R.D. 412, 417 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (citation omitted). The party resisting discovery must explain with specificity why discovery is inappropriate; the boilerplate litany that the discovery sought is overly broad, burdensome, oppressive, vague, or irrelevant is insufficient. See Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 991 (3d Cir. 1982).

         IV. Analysis

         On December 28, 2016, Smith filed the motion to compel (ECF No. 25) before the Court. Smith's motion and Blair County's response (ECF No. 26) provide a detailed chronology of the discovery in this case-which the Court appreciates-but most of the disputes and events preceding Smith's motion to compel are irrelevant for purposes of this memorandum opinion.[2]What is relevant is the discovery Smith seeks through his motion to compel, which is:

a. Video surveillance of any incident, event or occurrence at any time prior to the subject Incident;
b. Video surveillance of any incident, event or occurrence at any time subsequent to the subject Incident; and
c. Documents and/or communications relating to any investigations, studies, examinations, internal affairs investigations and/or inspections which relate to or refer to the Blair County Prison.

(ECF No. 25 ¶ 20.) In his motion, Smith states that these materials were requested from Blair County as request numbers 4, 5, and 14, respectively, in Smith's first request for production of documents. (ECF No. 25 ¶ 20.) A review of the copy of Smith's first request for production of documents provided by Blair County (ECF No. 26-1) makes clear that requests number 4 and 5 seek materials specifically involving the warden and named corrections officers.

         Smith also explains in his motion that this first request for production of documents defined certain terms. “Incident” means “the event that took place on November 11, 2014 at the Blair County Prison, which is more fully set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint, to wit: Lloyd Gene Rogers, Jr. [sic] assault on Plaintiff.” (ECF No. 25 ¶ 5.b n.1.) And “[i]ncident, event or occurrence” means “any event in which force was used against an inmate, employee, or other individual and/or any event which was the basis for criminal and/or civil litigation.” (Id. ¶ 5.d n.2.)

         Smith explains further why he believes Blair County has not produced all materials responsive to request numbers 4, 5, and 14. Regarding request number 4, he states that other documents produced by Blair County confirm the existence of a video of an argument between several Blair County corrections officers, including defendant Paul Kifer, [3] that occurred before November 11, 2014, and which escalated to the point that Kifer had to be restrained. (ECF No. 25 ¶ 14.b.i.)

         Regarding request number 5, Smith states that documents produced by Blair County confirm the existence of a video of a “physical altercation” that occurred after November 11, 2014, and which involved several inmates and to which nine officers responded-including defendant Joseph Fox. (ECF No. 25 ¶ 14.c.iii; see also ECF No. 26 at 10.) Smith states also regarding request number 5 that “an incident involving Defendant Kifer sexually assaulting ...


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