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Oke v. Crowuther

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2019

AYODELE OKE, Plaintiff
v.
MICHELE CROWUTHER, Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO COMPEL [ECF NO. 24]

          RICHARD A. LANZILLO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Ayodele Oke, a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), filed the underlying pro se action on October 26, 2018. ECF No. 3. Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs motion to compel discovery based upon alleged deficiencies in Defendant's responses to his interrogatories and requests for production of documents. ECF No. 24. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Legal Standard

         In general, the scope and limits of discovery are governed by Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 (b) (1) defines the scope of discovery 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 "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.'" Allen v. Eckard, 2019 WL 1099001, at *2 (M.D. Pa. March 3, 2019) (citing In re Suboxone (Buprenorphine Hydrochloride & Naloxone) Antitrust Litig., 2016 WL 3519618, at *3 (E.D. Pa. June 28, 2016)). Although relevance in discovery is broader than for evidentiary purposes, it is not without its limits. Stabilus v. Haynsworth, Baldwin, Johnson & Greaves, P.A., 144 F.R.D. 258, 265 (E.D. Pa. 1992). "In ascertaining which materials are discoverable and which are not, a district court must further distinguish between requests that 'appear reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and demands that are 'overly broad and unduly burdensome.'"[1] Westfield Insurance Co. v. Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes, 321 F.R.D. 107, 111 (E.D. Pa. 2017) (citing Miller v. Hygrade Food Products Corp., 89 F.Supp.2d 643, 657 (E.D. Pa. 2000)); See also Bell v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 270 F.R.D. 186, 191 (D.N.J. 2010).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 allows a party who receives evasive or incomplete discovery responses to seek a court order compelling additional disclosure or discovery. A party moving to compel discovery bears the initial burden of proving the relevance of the requested information. Trash v. Olin Corp., 298 F.R.D. 244, 263 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (citing Bracey v. Harlow, 2012 WL 4857790, *2 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 12, 2012)). Once that burden is met, "the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevance by demonstrating that the requested discovery either does not come within the broad scope of relevance as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure." Id.

         II. Plaintiffs Claims

         The relevance of each of the discovery requests at issue must be assessed in the context of Plaintiff s claims and the issues of the case. Plaintiffs complaint asserts one count pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. See generally ECF No. 3. Plaintiff alleges that he was caught passing a pepper and an onion to Inmate Robinson on October 17, 2016. Id. at 3. The misconduct was referred to Defendant Crowuther for informal resolution, due to the pettiness of the offense. Id. During the informal resolution, Plaintiff asserted a procedural defense; specifically, that Defendant Crowuther failed to commence the proceeding within "seven working days" of the offense, and was thus barred by a Seven Day Rule from prosecuting the misconduct. Id. at 3-4. Defendant Crowuther explained that, due to a prison lockdown, the Seven Day Rule was tolled. Id. at 4. The argument escalated, and the matter was then referred by Defendant Crowuther to a Hearing Examiner for a formal hearing, which involves harsher sanctions than informal hearings. Id. at 5.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiffs motion seeks the discovery of information which can be arranged by category: information regarding other inmates, information regarding misconduct proceedings, and his own complete prison records. See Generally ECF No. 24. Defendants have objected to numerous requests for production of documents and interrogatories. Plaintiff now seeks an order compelling discovery of these matters. The disputes are highlighted below, as are the Court's rulings.

         A. Documents Related to Inmates Giddens and Robinson

         In Interrogatories Nos. 5, 6, 12, and 14, as well as First Request for Production No. 2, Second Request for Production Nos. 4 and 6, and Third Request for Production Nos. 2, 3, and 5, Plaintiff asks for information pertaining to inmates Giddens and Robinson. Plaintiff asserts that this information is needed to show that: (1) inmate Giddens had a misconduct charge dismissed due to the DOC's noncompliance with the 7-Day Rule, and (2) inmate Robinson received a less harsh sanction for substantially the same misconduct involving the pepper and onion.

         DOC policy prohibits inmates from receiving information about another inmate. See, e.g., Sloan v. Murrary, 2013 WL 5551162 at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct 8, 2013) (denying motion to compel grievance responses that concerned other inmates, citing DOC policy prohibiting inmates from receiving information about one another); Torres v. Harris, 2019 WL 265804, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Jan 18, 2019). Here, the Court finds that Plaintiffs request for the discovery of other inmates' information implicates important privacy interests. More importantly, the relevance of the information, and its potential for leading to admissible evidence, is minimal. Any possible relevance of this information is substantially outweighed by privacy and confidentiality interests. Finally, the Court ...


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