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Fahs v. The Red Lion Area School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 16, 2017

DERRICK FAHS, ex rel. SCOTT AND SHERRY FAHS, Plaintiffs
v.
THE RED LION AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          MARTIN C. CARLSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Factual Background

         On June 7, 2015, plaintiffs Scott and Sherry Fahs commenced this action on behalf of their son, Derrick Fahs (collectively, “the Fahses”), by filing an initial complaint alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-797(b), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., and state law against the defendant, the Red Lion Area School District (“the School District”), where Derrick Fahs attended school. (Doc. 1.) The Fahses now proceed on an amended complaint, filed on August 3, 2015, which asserts additional federal law claims. (Doc. 8.) Namely, the Fahses allege two new theories of relief against the School District: retaliation in violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act by citing Scott Fahs for truancy in response to the Fahses' advocacy on Derrick's behalf; and violation of the IDEA for failing to comply with and implement an order issued by a Pennsylvania Special Education Hearing Officer (“the Hearing Officer”) on March 9, 2015. (Doc. 8, ¶¶ 34-38, 156-168.) In response to the new claims raised in the amended complaint, the School District noticed depositions and propounded discovery requests seeking Derrick's medical records and other medical information regarding Derrick from his treating physicians. (Doc. 35.) Those requests form the basis of the current discovery dispute.

         On December 22, 2016, this matter was referred to the undersigned for pretrial management and resolution of discovery disputes. (Doc. 44.) Two discovery motions are now pending before this court: the Fahses' motions to quash the subpoenas issued by the School District to Drs. Dennis J. Dlugos and Allen S. Nussbaum (Doc. 49); and the Fahses' motion for a protective order or order limiting discovery concerning Derrick's medical records and physician information (Doc. 51). Both motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition.

         For the reasons set forth below, this court will deny in part these motions with respect to the Fahses' IDEA compliance claim because we believe that Derrick's medical records may be relevant to a determination regarding the adequacy of the school district's efforts to comply with his medical needs.

         In their pleadings the plaintiffs have suggested that they may elect to dismiss this IDEA claim rather than provide this requested discovery, and have for this reason asked us to also rule upon whether this information is subject of disclosure with respect to the ADA retaliation claim they have filed. Given this representation by counsel, we believe that the more appropriate course would be to defer judgment regarding whether the defendant would also be entitled to disclosure of this information on the plaintiff's ADA retaliation claim until after the plaintiffs inform us concerning whether they elect to pursue their IDEA compliance claim and provide this discovery.[1]

         II. Discussion

         Several basic guiding principles inform our resolution of the instant discovery motions. At the outset, rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery are matters consigned to the court's discretion and judgment. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). Thus, a court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This far-reaching discretion extends to rulings by United States Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:

District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J. 1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary [discovery] matter . . ., “courts in this district have determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an abuse of discretion standard.” Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D. Pa. 1996)). Under that standard, a magistrate judge's discovery ruling “is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion.” Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996); see also Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather than de novo standard); EEOC v. Mr. Gold, Inc., 223 F.R.D. 100, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (holding that a magistrate judge's resolution of discovery disputes deserves substantial deference and should be reversed only if there is an abuse of discretion).

Halsey v. Pfeiffer, No. 09-1138, 2010 WL 3735702, *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 17, 2010).

         Although the scope of discovery is to be interpreted broadly, it “is not without limits.” Fassett v. Sears Holdings Corp., 319 F.R.D. 143, 149 (M.D. Pa. 2017) (quoting Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns & Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996)). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), as amended, provides:

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 be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). In determining “the scope of discoverable information under Rule 26(b)(1), the Court looks initially to the pleadings.” Trask v. Olin Corp., 298 F.R.D. 244, 263 (W.D. Pa. 2014). Furthermore, “[i]nformation within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Thus, “all relevant material is discoverable unless an applicable evidentiary privilege is asserted. The presumption that such matter is discoverable, however, is defeasible.” Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 65 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Rule 26 also provides a framework by which a party may seek a protective order to limit the scope of discovery. Specifically, Rule 26(c)(1) provides as follows:

A party or any person from whom discovery is sought may move for a protective order in the court where the action is pending. . . . The motion must include a certification that the movant has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with other affected parties in an effort to resolve the dispute without court action. The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from ...

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