United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
PARADISE BAXTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on an appeal by Plaintiff
Augustus Simmons from the Magistrate Judge's Order,
entered on June 10, 2019, granting the Defendants' motion
to compel responses to their first set of interrogatories.
ECF No. 56. Plaintiff is a prisoner, currently
confined at the State Correctional Institution at Forest, who
filed this civil action to redress, among other things,
alleged violations of his religious rights. Plaintiff is
alleged to be a high-ranking gang member who purportedly
founded a religion known as the “Fellowship of
Spiritual Science.” See ECF No. 50, ¶2;
ECF No. 56 at 1. As set forth in their motion to compel,
Defendant suspect that Plaintiff may be using his
“religion” as “an attempt at gang
leadership.” ECF No. 50, ¶2. “If so, ”
Defendants explain, then Plaintiff's religious beliefs
are not “sincerely held” and the Defendants would
have a compelling governmental interest in restricting it.
light of these concerns, Defendants served interrogatories
upon Plaintiff seeking the names and inmate numbers of fellow
prisoners whom Plaintiff has converted or sought to convert
to his “religion.” Id. ¶3.
Plaintiff refused to answer the Defendants'
interrogatories, claiming that he is “sworn” to
keep such information confidential. ECF No. 50-3 at 4.
June 10, 2019 Order, United States Magistrate Judge Richard
A. Lanzillo assumed that Plaintiff may be asserting the
clergy-communicant privilege, which protects
“communications made (1) to a clergy person (2) in his
or her spiritual capacity (3) with a reasonable expectation
of confidentiality.” See ECF No. 56 at 2
(citing In re Grand Jury Investigation, 918 F.2d
374, 384 (3d Cir. 1990)). Judge Lanzillo found that Plaintiff
did not meet his burden of proving the applicability of this
privilege. Id. at 2-3. Further, the Magistrate Judge
found that Plaintiff's current objection is contrary to
the relief he has sought in this case as well as the
positions he has taken in other litigation before this Court.
Id. at 3-4. Consequently, Judge Lanzillo overruled
Plaintiff's objection to Defendants' interrogatories
and granted the Defendants' motion to compel answers.
Id. at 4. Plaintiff then filed this appeal, arguing
that the sought-after information constitutes
“privileged clerical information.” ECF No. 58.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), a magistrate judge may hear
and determine most non-dispositive pretrial matters. A
district judge may reconsider these determinations on appeal
if the decision was clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); N.L.R.B. v. Frazier, 966
F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir. 1992).
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 Barnard v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Corp., No.
3:18-CV-01218, 2019 WL 461510, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 6, 2019).
the Magistrate Judge acted well within his discretion in
determining that the subject information was discoverable and
granting the Defendants' motion to compel. Although
Plaintiff indicates his disagreement with the Magistrate
Judge's ruling, he sets forth nothing in his appeal
papers to demonstrate that the Magistrate Judge's
decision constituted an abuse of his discretion, was clearly
erroneous or was otherwise contrary to law. Accordingly, IT
IS HEREBY ORDERED, this 28th day of June, 2019, that
Plaintiffs appeal is DENIED and the Order entered by
Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lanzillo on June 20, 2019, ECF
NO. , is AFFIRMED.
 Although Plaintiff's filing is
styled as an appeal of a collateral order to the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, it was
docketed as an appeal to this Court, and the ...