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Stockton v. Wetzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 17, 2018

JOHN WETZEL, ET AL., Defendants



         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Compel Production of Documents pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. (Doc. 68, Mot. to Compel). This motion is fully briefed and now ripe for disposition.

         This case arises following a December 20, 2013 use-of-force incident where Stockton claims Defendants retaliated against him and conspired to assault him. Stockton also claims a nurse failed to treat his injuries sustained during the assault. As a consequence of his actions that day, Stockton was criminally prosecuted and convicted of one count of aggravated assault.[1] (Doc. 33, Am. Compl.)

         In the instant motion to compel, Defendants ask this Court to order Stockton to produce documents supporting his claims against Defendants as well as a copy of his criminal trial transcript. (Doc. 68). Plaintiff responds that Defendants' request is overbroad and a "fishing expedition" which seeks "privileged" documents. Plaintiff also objects to producing documents available from alternative third-party sources. (Docs. 70 and 78, Pl's Opp'n. Br.). Defendants argue Stockton has not proven his assertion of privilege and, despite their best efforts, they are unable to obtain copies of Stockton's criminal trial transcript from any other source. (Doc. 75, Defs.' Supp. Br.)

         For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion to Compel (Doc. 68) will be granted.

         II. Relevant Legal Standards

         The scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the trial court. In re Cendant Corp. Sec. Litig., 343 F.3d 658, 661-62 (3d Cir. 2003); see also McConnell v. Canadian Pacific Realty Co., 280 F.R.D. 188, 192 (M.D. Pa. 2011) ("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."). The court's decision regarding the conduct of discovery, including whether to compel disclosure, will only be disturbed upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. See Petrucelli v. Bohringer & Ratzinger, GMBH, 46 F.3d 1298, 1310 (3d Cir. 1995) .

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) defines the scope of discovery as "any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case." A matter is "relevant" if "it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and, the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 4 01; see also Coles Wexford Hotel, Inc. v. Highmark, Inc., 209 F.Supp.3d 810, 823 (W.D. Pa. 2016) ("[T]he scope of all discovery is limited to matter that is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case and proportional to what is at stake in a given case.") .

         Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33 and 34 state that a party upon whom interrogatories and requests for production of documents have been served shall serve a copy of the answers, and objections, if any, to such discovery requests within thirty days after the service of the requests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b) (2) and 34(b)(2)(A). A shorter or longer time may be directed by court order or by stipulation of the parties. (Id.; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 29.)

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions to compel discovery. Under Rule 37(a), a party may file a motion to compel discovery when the opposing party fails to respond or provides incomplete or evasive answers to properly propounded document request or interrogatories. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii - iv). "A party seeking discovery bears the initial burden of demonstrating the requested discovery is relevant to its claim or defense." CedarCrestone, Inc. v. Affiliated Computer Services LLC, No. 1:14-MC-0298, 2014 WL 3055355, at *4 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (citing 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." McConnell v. Canadian Pac. Realty Co., 280 F.R.D. 188, 193 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (citing In re Urethane Antitrust Litigation, 261 F.R.D. 570, 573 (D. Kan. 2009)).

         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.[2] Defendants' claim when CO Parks accidently opened Stockton's cell door, Stockton exited his cell and then refused repeated direct orders to return to his cell. Staff physically restrained Stockton and placed him in his cell. Stockton claims ...

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