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Stockton v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 4, 2018

JOHN WETZEL, ET AL., Defendants


          RICHARD P. CONABOY, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         This matter comes before the Court on the pro se Plaintiff's Motion to Compel. (Doc. 54). The motion is fully briefed and now ripe for disposition.

         For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff s motion will be denied.

         II. Relevant Legal Standards

         A party who has received evasive or incomplete discovery responses may seek a court order compelling disclosures or discovery of the materials sought. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 (a) (4) .

         Issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under the Federal Rules rest in the sound discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). 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).

         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)). It is well settled that Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 establishes a liberal discovery policy. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow 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). Courts interpret relevancy "broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter[s] that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 350-51, 98 S.Ct. 2380, 2398, 57 L.Ed. 253, (1978). 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) .

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 34 requires that a party served with a document request produce either the requested documents or "state with specificity" the grounds for objecting. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(4); Momah v. Albert Einstein Medical Center, 164 F.R.D. 412, 417 (E.D. Pa.1996) . "Mere recitation of the familiar litany that an interrogatory or a document production request is 'overly broad, burdensome, oppressive and irrelevant' will not suffice." Id. (quoting Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992 (3d Cir.1982)). The objecting party must demonstrate in specific terms why a particular discovery request does not fall within the broad scope of discovery or is otherwise privileged or improper. Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F.Supp. 255, 258 (E.D. Pa. 1982). The party attempting to withhold the release of relevant material on the grounds of privilege must also "describe the nature of the documents, communications, or other tangible things not produced or disclosed . . . in a manner that . . . will enable other parties to assess the claim." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(A)(ii). Once an objection is properly articulated, the burden rests with the party seeking discovery to show that a discovery request lies within the bounds of Rule 26. Momah, 164 F.R.D. at 417.

         III. Relevant Background and Procedural History

         On July 18, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) motion to dismiss Stockton's Amended Complaint. (Doc. 48). The surviving claims relate to events that transpired at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield (SCI-Smithfield) Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) on December 20, 2013. (Id.)

         Stockton alleges the Defendants (Lt. Bard, Sgt. Miller, CO Willinksy, CO Harpster, CO Wilson, CO Barndt and CO Parks) improperly opened his RHU cell door for the explicit purpose of assaulting him.[1] Defendants claim Stockton's cell door was accidently opened by CO Parks and that Stockton exited his cell voluntarily, refused repeated direct orders to return to his cell, and then was physically restrained and placed in his cell by staff. Stockton ...

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