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Reaves v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2017




         Plaintiff Sterlin Reaves (“Plaintiff”), is an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution (“SCI”) at Pine Grove. Plaintiff has presented a civil rights complaint alleging that Defendants violated his rights provided by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by keeping him on the Restricted Release List (“RRL”), and thus in solitary confinement, for over fourteen years.

         Presently before the Court is a Motion to Compel filed by Plaintiff in which he asks the Court to order Defendants to answer fully the interrogatories submitted by Plaintiff; to produce the documents requested in Plaintiff's First Request for Production of Documents; to produce the documents requested by Plaintiff in his Second Request for Production of Documents; to provide disclosures under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 (a)(2); and to allow Plaintiff to take non-stenographic audiotaped depositions of each Defendant. ECF No. 46. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         The scope of discovery is defined by Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides:

(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). Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which discovery may be compelled, are matters consigned to the Court's discretion and judgment. It has long been held that decisions relating to the scope of discovery permitted under Rule 26 also rest in the sound discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). A party moving to compel discovery bears the initial burden of proving the relevance of the requested information. Morrison v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 203 F.R.D.195, 196 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Once that initial burden is met, “the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevance by demonstrating that the requested discovery (1)does not come within the broad scope of relevance as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.” In re Urethane Antitrust Litig., 261 F.R.D. 570, 573 (D. Kan. 2009).

         Here, with respect to the interrogatories submitted by Plaintiff, Defendants have represented that they responded to the interrogatories after Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Compel. Plaintiff's Motion in this regard therefore is therefore moot and thus denied. ECF No. 58 at 3.

         With respect to the documents requested by Plaintiff in his First Request for the Production of Documents, it appears that Defendants have already produced certain documents, have subsequently agreed that they will provide the requested documents, or there is otherwise no longer a dispute (Request Nos. 1, 3, 6-9, 16, 18-19). ECF No. 50 at 3-5; ECF No. 58 at 5-10 In addition, as a compromise, Defendants have agreed to make certain other documents available to Plaintiff for his review in a redacted form (Request Nos. 2, 5, 14-15). Id. Therefore, the only requests remaining at issue are Requests Nos. 4, 10-13 and 17.

         In Request No. 4, Plaintiff seeks “[t]he integrated case summary-classification, ” which Plaintiff argues will reveal to him whether there are any “separations filed against him preventing his release to a specific institution.” ECF No. 58-1 at 1, ¶ 4; ECF No. 50 at 3, ¶ 4. The Court, however, fails to see what relevance information regarding what institution Plaintiff can be housed in has to his claim challenging his continued status on the RRL. Moreover, as argued by Defendants, the information that Plaintiff seeks is not only privileged and confidential but contains highly sensitive security information and/or psychological information and documents containing frank assessments by staff as to Plaintiff's status and that disclosure of this information to Plaintiff could enable him to manipulate staff and programming. Defendants also contend that disclosing the nature of separations, whether from other staff and/or inmates, and the identities of those persons, could present a serious safety risk to staff. Under these circumstances, Plaintiff's Motion as to Document Request No. 4 is denied.

         In Requests Nos. 10 and 11, Plaintiff seeks a photocopy of the pictures taken of the contraband confiscated from his cell in July of 2005 and the conclusions drawn by the security captain following the ensuing investigation. ECF No. 58-1 at 2, ¶¶ 10, 11. Again, the Court fails to see the relevance to Plaintiff's claims in this case. In addition, Defendants have represented that the photos cannot be located at this time (and likely were not retained) and that one of the items confiscated was a hand drawn schematic of SCI Greene, which inmates are not permitted to possess. Moreover, the photos, as well as the security investigations/conclusions, clearly raise confidentiality and security issues. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in this regard is also denied.

         In Request No. 12, Plaintiff seeks his psychological evaluations and conclusions from 2002 to 2017. Plaintiff contends that these records are necessary in order to show that he has done nothing over the past 15 years to justify his continued status on the RRL. ECF No. 58-1 at 2, ¶ 12; ECF No. 50 at 4, ¶ 12, at 2, ¶ A(1). Defendants have objected to this request “because it seeks information that is privileged and confidential, with highly sensitive documents containing frank assessments by staff as to plaintiff's psychological condition, status and treatment, ” and that “[d]isclosure of this information to the plaintiff (an inmate) could enable him to manipulate staff and programming, in addition to presenting a security or safety risk to staff.” ECF No. 58 at 8. The Court not only agrees with Defendants but Plaintiff's psychological evaluations are not records of Plaintiff's conduct and thus are seemingly irrelevant. Plaintiff's Motion with respect to Request No. 12 therefore is denied.

         Plaintiff seeks the custodial status and identity of all similarly situated inmates accused of and/or found guilty of assaulting female staff members in Request No. 13. ECF No. 58-1 at 2, ¶ 13. Plaintiff's request is denied. Not only is the request overly broad and seemingly irrelevant to Plaintiff's claims, but the information sought, which relates to other inmates, is clearly privileged and confidential. Furthermore, counsel for Defendants has represented that the DOC does not maintain records in a fashion that would enable them to extract the information Plaintiff seeks.

         In Request No. 17, Plaintiff asks the Court to compel Defendants to provide him with a copy of the last two most updated “06.05.01 administration of Security Level 5 Housing Units.” ECF No. 58-1 at 2, ¶ 17. Plaintiff clearly seeks privileged and highly confidential information that would pose an obvious security/safety risk to inmates, staff, and/or the institution. It is also unclear to the Court how the policies and procedures relative to Security Level 5 are relevant to Plaintiff's claims regarding his continued status on the RRL. Plaintiff's Motion with respect to Request No. 17 therefore is denied.

         In Plaintiff's Second Request for Production of Documents he seeks: 1) his DC-15 file from 2002 to 2017, which appears to be his entire prison file; 2) his DC-17X files from 2002 to 2017, which memorialize Plaintiff's daily activities such as acceptance of meals, exercise and showers; and 3) a copy of the initial request to place Plaintiff on the RRL so as to ascertain who issued it and the rationale behind the decision. ECF No. 58-2 at 1. Plaintiff ...

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