United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
GIBSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
action arises from allegations that Defendant Somerset Area
School District was deliberately indifferent to the
inappropriate sexual conduct of a former teacher, Stephen
Shaffer, which resulted in the teacher repeatedly sexually
abusing the Plaintiff while she was a student. Presently
before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel More
Specific Responses to Interrogatories and Document Requests.
(ECF No. 36). Plaintiff asks that this Court compel
production of School District records relating to instances
of inappropriate sexual misconduct by teachers, going back as
far as 1988, the year Shaffer began working at the school.
(ECF No. 42 at 1.) The School District objects on relevance
grounds, and argues that it need only produce documents
relating to incidents which occurred while the student
attended the school.
Motion has been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 37, 39, 42) and the
parties had the opportunity to present their arguments during
a telephonic status conference (ECF No. 41). Accordingly, the
Motion is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated
below, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion to Compel.
The Court will also DENY the School District's Motion to
Motion to Compel Standard
materials that are relevant to an issue in a case are
discoverable unless they are privileged. Rule 26 explains the
scope of discovery:
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 and proportional to the needs of
the case, considering 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. Information within
this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). While the scope of 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). Indeed, Rule
26(b)(1) imposes "two content-based limitations upon the
scope of discovery: privilege and relevance." Trask
v. Olin Corp., 298 F.R.D. 244, 257 (W.D. Pa. 2014). Even
relevant discovery may also be limited by a court if the
burden of producing it outweighs the benefit based on the
specifics of the case. FED. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).
requests records relating to instances of inappropriate
sexual misconduct by teachers from 1988-2005; the years
Shaffer taught at the school. The School District limited its
responses to 1999-2005, which represents the years Plaintiff
attended the school plus two additional years prior.
Plaintiff avers that instances of inappropriate sexual
misconduct by teachers from 1988-1998 are relevant to
establish a custom, policy, and practice of deliberate
indifference by the School District. (ECF No. 42 at 5.)
Plaintiff points to police records relating to Shaffer's
arrest which mention three incidents of misconduct by Shaffer
prior to 1998. (Id. at 3.) This, Plaintiff argues,
supports her ultimate claim that the School District knew of
Shaffer's penchant for inappropriate behavior and chose
to do nothing about it. And as such, more detailed
information on these three incidents as well as information
on any other incidents that may have occurred during that
time period is relevant and discoverable.
response, the School District argues that anything before
1999 is irrelevant because under the case law, "sporadic
incidents" are insufficient to establish a sexual
harassment claim and three incidents over ten years is surely
sporadic. (ECF No. 39 at 4.) The School District further
argues that Plaintiff has already received a significant
number of records including the police report which
references these three incidents, and that asking for records
from 1988-1998 amounts to a fishing expedition. (Id.
review, the Court finds the School District's irrelevancy
argument unavailing. The premise of Plaintiff's Complaint
is that the School District was aware of inappropriate
behavior by Shaffer for years but took no action, eventually
resulting in Shaffer sexually abusing her. Discovery into
complaints against teachers, including Shaffer, while he
taught at the school is plainly relevant to Plaintiff's
School District's argument that "sporadic
incidents" are insufficient to J establish a sexual
harassment claim is unpersuasive for several reasons. First,
the case law cited by the School District involves the
sufficiency of sexual harassment claims on \ summary
judgment motions. At the discovery stage, a party may obtain
information as long as it is relevant to a claim or defense.
FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1). Discovery is not limited to
admissible evidence let alone evidence that is singlehandedly
sufficient to prove a claim at the summary judgment or trial
stage. Second, the School District's argument assumes
that the three incidents mentioned in the police report are
the only incidents that occurred between 1988 and 1998.
Without discovery, neither Plaintiff nor the Court can
conclude that that is true. Plaintiff is entitled to explore
whether there were more incidents besides the three
mentioned, as well as for more details on the three incidents
mentioned in the police report.
while Plaintiff's Title IX claim will ultimately require
her to prove that the harassment was severe and pervasive; to
rule now that the three incidents prior to 1998 were
insufficient to constitute sexual harassment oversimplifies
the issue. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint
that she was repeatedly raped by Shaffer; allegations which
would easily rise to the level of harassment. Whether or not
and at what point the School District was on notice is an
issue better resolved at summary judgment. Additionally, ...