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Johnson v. Miskell

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2017


          Kane Judge.


         Pending before this Court is a motion to reopen discovery (Doc. No. 44), a motion to compel answers to interrogatories (Doc. No. 49), and a motion to determine the sufficiency of Defendant's objections (Doc. No. 50), filed by pro se Plaintiff, Timothy Johnson, in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant has also filed a motion for an extension of the dispositive motion deadline. (Doc. No. 51.) The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that he was improperly designated to a sex offender treatment program (“SOTP”), resulting in psychological and physical injury and the denial of parole. (Doc. No. 1.) On December 15, 2016, Defendant filed an answer to the amended complaint. (Doc. No. 28.) By scheduling Order dated March 28, 2017, the Court directed that all discovery be completed within ninety (90) days and that any dispositive motions be filed within thirty (30) days thereafter. (Doc. No. 35.) Plaintiff propounded his first set of interrogatories and document production requests on Defendant on May 19, 2017, his first requests for admission on June 1, 2017, and his second set of document production requests on June 5, 2017. (See Doc. No. 44.) Defendant has responded to the majority of Plaintiff's discovery requests, with the exception of Plaintiff's second set of document production requests, which seek Plaintiff's entire mental health record. (Doc. No. 44.) The discovery period having closed pursuant to this Court's March 28, 2017 scheduling order, Plaintiff now seeks to reopen discovery in order to compel Defendant to respond to a number of the interrogatories and document production requests.


         A. Motion to reopen discovery

         Plaintiff requests that the Court reopen the discovery deadline for an additional sixty (60) days and compel Defendant to answer certain discovery requests propounded on him. Defendant opposes the reopening of discovery on the basis that it will unnecessarily delay this action since, in Defendant's view, Plaintiff's amended complaint, premised on an alleged right to parole, is meritless. Therefore, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's requested discovery is irrelevant. (Doc. No. 46 at 1-2.)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)(4) provides that a scheduling order may be modified “for good cause and with the judge's consent.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). “This authority extends to requests to reopen discovery.” In Re Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litig., No. 1:08-MDL-1935, 2013 WL 3873225, at *2 (M.D. Pa. July 25, 2013) (citing Aamco Transmissions, Inc. v. Marino, Nos. 88-5522, 88-6197, 1991 WL 40336 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 19, 1991)). This standard is significantly more stringent than the standard in Rule 15(a)(2), providing that courts should “freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” Race Tires Am., Inc. v. Hoosier Racing Tire Corp., 614 F.3d 57, 84 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2)). A movant's “due diligence” is essential in establishing good cause. Race Tires, 614 F.3d at 84; see also Brown v. Am. Sintered Techs., No. 4:14-CV-0410, 2015 WL 917293 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 3, 2015) (explaining that the “good cause standard . . . hinges on diligence of the movant”) (citing Venetec Inter., Inc. v. Nexus Med., LLC, 541 F.Supp.2d 612, 618 (D. Del. 2008)). Finally, “district courts have broad discretion to manage discovery.” Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 734 (3d Cir. 1995).

         The Court is persuaded that Plaintiff has satisfied the good cause standard. The Court initially notes that Defendant's characterization of Plaintiff's claim as limited to an alleged right to parole may be too narrow, as it appears that Plaintiff also takes issue with his designation as a sex offender and the treatment that accompanies such a designation, such as the SOTP, [1] arguing that such a designation triggers an independent liberty interest. See Renchenski v. Williams, 622 F.3d 315, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (finding that “the stigmatizing effects of being labeled a sex offender, when coupled with mandatory behavioral modification therapy, triggers an independent liberty interest”).

         The information Plaintiff seeks, set forth more fully below, addresses the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's placement in the SOTP. Accordingly, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion to reopen discovery for a forty-five (45) day period, with the dispositive motion deadline to be stayed pending further order of this Court.

         B. Motion to compel discovery

         i. May 19, 2017 and June 5, 2017 Interrogatories

         Central to Plaintiff's instant motion to compel are four interrogatories dated May 19, 2017 and one interrogatory dated June 5, 2017. The parties' discovery dispute is manifold, consisting of privilege invocations and relevance objections, as well as an overarching assertion that the evidence sought by Plaintiff implicates institutional security concerns. Those interrogatories and Defendant's responses are as follows:

3. State the procedure in effect during February of 2014 for performing a “Static 99 test.” If these procedures are set forth in any job description or other document, produce the documents(s)
Response: Defendant no longer possesses the “Static 99” procedures in use in 2014. By way of further answer, this question is objectionable since it requests confidential information which is not provided to inmates pursuant to DOC policy. Those policies that are available to inmates are present in the prison library, and are ...

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