United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
STEPHANIE MOYER, as Administrator of the Estate of VICTORIA JEANNETTE HERR, Plaintiff,
LEBANON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge
11, 2016, Plaintiff Stephanie Moyer filed the instant
lawsuit, seeking damages from a number of Defendants stemming
from the death of her daughter, Victoria Jeannette Herr.
(Doc. 1). Following the disposition of a motion to dismiss,
Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on August 4, 2017. (Doc.
45). In her amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges a claim of
deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, a
Monell claim, a state law negligence claim, and a
state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional
distress. These claims are brought against Lebanon
County, and a number of medical staff and correctional
officers at Lebanon County Correctional Facility.
parties are engaged in discovery. On December 19, 2017, the
Court conducted a conference call regarding a discovery
dispute between the parties, arising from subpoenas issued to
former and current employers of Defendant Heather Phipps. The
subpoenas request "[a]ll employment records . . .
maintained by you including, but not limited to, personnel
files, performance evaluations, grievances, dates of
employment, training records, and payroll records from
January 1, 2011, through the present." (Doc. 704).
for the Defendants argue this language is overly broad,
invasive, and irrelevant to the case at hand because the
issue is the actions taken by the Defendants and how each
contributed to the death of Victoria Jeannette Herr in 2015.
Thus, counsel argues, subpoenas crafted in a manner that seek
information on subsequent acts or knowledge does not bear on
the key issues in the remaining claims. Counsel for the
Plaintiff counters the subpoena is intended to: determine
specific training Phipps received; verify employment;
corroborate deposition testimony; and for impeachment
and central to this discovery dispute, the information is
intended to be used to determine if Phipps has been
reprimanded for responses to any similar situation she
experienced in her subsequent employment, and to determine
whether she received training on how to respond to such a
similar situation. Counsel for the Plaintiff asserts that
Phipps' and other defendants' continued insistence
that staff acted properly in responding to Heir's
deteriorating condition fits with factual assertions that
officials acted to cover up any wrongdoing. Counsel argues
that evidence that Phipps received reprimand in handling of
any similar individual undermines the assertion that she and
other staff took proper measures in caring for Victoria Herr
on the days and nights in question. When prompted, neither
counsel specifically confirmed that Phipps was questioned on
or identified reprimands in her subsequent employment.
Counsel for the Plaintiff also notes that subpoenas were only
sent to past and present employers at which Phipps testified
to treating for detox symptoms as part of her employment.
afford considerable latitude in discovery in order to ensure
that litigation proceeds with "the fullest possible
knowledge of the issues and facts before trial."
Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947). The
general scope of discovery is outlined by Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) as:
[p]arties 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).
discovery sought by way of a Rule 45 subpoena must fall
within this permissible scope of discovery. Landau v.
Zong, No. 3:15-CV-1327, 2017 WL 6336630, at *2 (M.D. Pa.
Dec. 12, 2017) (citations omitted). Relevance, for purposes
of discovery, does not hinge on admissibility at trial.
Hence, the Court needs only determine if the information
sought "is relevant to any party's claim or defense
and proportional to the needs of the case" as provided
in Rule 26(b)(1), or whether the defendants are embarking on
a "fishing expedition." See United States v.
Cuthbertson, 630 F.2d 139, 144 (3d Cir. 1980). Even
under the revised Rule 26, District Courts have discretion to
shape the permissible scope of discovery. See Greene v.
Horry Cnty, , 650 Fed.Appx. 98, 99 (3d Cir. 2016)
(non-precedential) (citing Anderson v. Wachovia Mortg.
Corp., 621 F.3d 261, 281 (3d Cir. 2010)). Courts
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).
However, Rule 26(b)(2)(C) requires the court to limit the
extent of discovery that would otherwise be permitted by the
rules of civil procedure or by local rule if it determines
that the information sought is outside the scope permitted by
for the Plaintiff make a compelling argument that at least
some of the information is relevant. Discovering dates of
employment is hardly invasive or burdensome and helps to
describe Phipps' experience. Additionally, the training
that Phipps received prior to her position at the Lebanon
County Correctional Facility in caring for addicts
experiencing withdrawal is relevant to determining
Phipps' own subjective understandings when treating
Victoria Jeannette Herr. Training records for employment
after Ms. Herr's death are certainly less easily deemed
relevant for resolution of the claims in this case. However,
the scope of discovery is significantly broader than the
scope of evidence to be presented at trial. To the extent
Phipps is expected to testify that she properly treated Herr
during Herr's deterioration, evidence demonstrating
subjective knowledge of mistreatment-even after-acquired
knowledge-is plausibly relevant to the instant claims.
the same logic, it is difficult to separate the provision of
grievances against Phipps. In order to protect against
disclosure of information irrelevant to this case, the
discovery of grievances should be limited only to grievances
for mistreatment of patients undergoing detox and withdrawal,
and only those where the employer determined improper action
was taken, A narrowing of the subpoena achieves the discovery
goals expressed by counsel for the Plaintiff, while remaining
within the scope provided by Rule 26.
remainder of the information sought-personnel files,
performance evaluations, and payroll records - are all
excessive given the nature of the action and the other
discovery sought. Counsel for the Plaintiff stated payroll
records are sought for determining employment history, which
is satisfied by receipt of dates of employment from the
respective employers. Personnel files and performance
evaluations are not narrowly tailored to discover information
relevant to determining the claims in this action. The issue
centers upon Phipps's understanding and knowledge in her
treatment, not how satisfactory subsequent employers find her
the Defendants' motion to quash the subpoenas sent to the
former and present employers of Heather Phipps (Doc. 70) is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN
PART. The subpoenas should be amended to provide
only for dates of employment, training related to treatment
of individuals experiencing detox and withdrawal, and
grievances where the employer found wrongdoing or improper
treatment of the same. As with other discovery, the documents
are to be produced and marked for "Attorneys ...