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Simmons v. Gilmore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2019

AUGUSTUS SIMMONS, Plaintiff
v.
R. GILMORE, ET AL., Defendants Item requested by Plaintiff for production Nature of Defendants' objection Plaintiff's Reply/Argument Ruling

          OPINION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS TO COMPEL [ECF No. 52, ECF No. 55] PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CONFERENCE [ECF No. 53]

          RICHARD A. LANZILLO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Augustus Simmons, a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, has initiated the instant civil case against various Defendants. See ECF No. 4. The incidents relevant to Simmons' case are claimed to have taken place at the State Correctional Institution at Forest.

         Now pending before the Court is Simmons' “Motion to Compel Discovery of Plaintiff's Second Request for Production of Documents in Civil Action No. 17-996.” ECF No. 55. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be DENIED.[1] Simmons has not demonstrated that the Defendants improperly withheld responsive materials. Furthermore, the Defendants have made a compelling showing that their responses balanced Simmons' interest in receiving relevant, responsive information with the Department's interest in not needlessly disclosing sensitive materials that implicate important institutional security interests, or otherwise responding more fulsomely to discovery requests that seek information that is irrelevant to the claims in the case, or which are unduly burdensome.

         I. Standard of Review - Motions to Compel

         If a party believes in good faith that another party has failed to respond adequately or appropriately to a discovery request, he may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(1). The rule specifically permits a party to file a motion to compel the production of documents. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(iv). In this case, Simmons is seeking to compel further responses to document requests that he has propounded to the Department in support of his claims.

         Rule 26(b), in turn, generally defines the scope of discovery permitted in a civil action, and prescribes certain limits to that discovery. That rule provides as follows:

(b) Discovery Scope and Limits.
(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: 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). Evidence is considered to be “relevant ‘if it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable that it would be without the evidence' and ‘the fact is of consequence in determining the action.'” In re Suboxone (Buprenorphine Hydrochloride & Naloxone) Antitrust Litig., 2016 WL 3519618, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 28, 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 401). Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which further discovery responses may be compelled, are matters committed to the court's judgment and discretion. Robinson v. Folino, 2016 WL 4678340, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 7, 2016) (citation omitted); see also Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). “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.” Cartagena v. Service Source, Inc., 328 F.R.D. 139, 143 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 6, 2018) (citing Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J. 1997)).”[2]

         Although decisions relating to the scope of discovery rest with the Court's discretion, that discretion is nevertheless limited by the scope of Rule 26 itself, which reaches only “nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” Accordingly, “[t]he Court's discretion in ruling on discovery issues is therefore restricted to valid claims of relevance and privilege.” Robinson, 2016 WL 4678340, at *2 (citing Jackson v. Beard, 2014 WL 3868228, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 6, 2014) (“[a]lthough the scope of relevance in discovery is far broader than that allowed for evidentiary purposes, it is not without its limits... . Courts will not permit discovery where a request is made in bad faith, unduly burdensome, irrelevant to the general subject matter of the action, or relates to confidential or privileged information”)). See also Mercaldo v. Wetzel, 2016 WL 5851958, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 6, 2016); Smith v. Rogers, 2017 WL 544598 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 9, 2017).

         Simmons, as the moving party, “bears the initial burden of showing the relevance of the requested information.” Morrison v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 203 F.R.D. 195, 196 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Once that burden is satisfied, the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish that the discovery being sought is not relevant or is otherwise inappropriate. Robinson, 2016 WL 4678340, at *2. The Court will review the disputed requests for production in turn.

         II. Items Requested for Production

         Simmons seeks the following discovery through the productions of documents from the Defendants:

a. Information regarding inmate Dwayne Watts, including that inmate's security file, reports, investigations, admissions and the reasons for that ...

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