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Simmons v. Gimore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 21, 2019

R. GILMORE, ET AL., Defendants



         Plaintiff Augustus Simmons (Simmons or Plaintiff), a prisoner in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, has initiated the instant civil case against various Defendants. See ECF No. 4. Now pending before the Court are another round of discovery-related motions filed by the Plaintiff: a motion to compel answers to interrogatories posed to Defendant Correctional Officer Carter (ECF No. 65); a motion to compel admissions by Defendant Chiovitti (ECF No. 66); and a Motion to Compel the production of certain documents (ECF No. 67). Simmons has also filed a Motion for the Appointment of Counsel. ECF No. 68. For the reasons that follow, all of these motions will be DENIED. 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. He has also failed to demonstrate the need for the appointment of counsel at this time.

         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))."[1]

         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. Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories (ECF No. 65)

         Simmons asks the Court to compel Correctional Officer Carter to answer three interrogatories to which Carter has objected. See ECF No. 72 at 1. First, Simmons asks Carter "What specifically is the procedure to [sic] recording daily activity on the units?" ECF No. 65 at 1. Carter objected to answering this query, maintaining that it was vague, overbroad, and not proportional to the needs of the case. ECF No. 72 at 1. He further objects, noting that prison personnel often deal with security measures as part of their "daily activity," and that such measures are confidential and not discoverable. Id. The Court agrees that the Plaintiffs request for a recap of "daily activity" on the unit is all of those things. Defendant Carter's objection is sustained the Motion to Compel is denied.

         Next, Simmons asks Defendant Carter to "name all requests, activities, events, hearings, and actions that would be deemed a recorded conduct or action when interacting with inmates." ECF No. 65, p. 2. Defendant Carter objected to this inquiry, arguing that the request seeks information about other inmates and therefore any response is privileges, confidential, and implicates prison security and privacy concerns. ECF No. 72, p. 2. Providing information which concerns other inmates to another inmate is prohibited per DOC policy. See, e.g., Sloan v. Murray, 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, *1 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 18, 2019). The Defendants' objection is sustained and the Motion to Compel is denied.

         Finally, Simmons asks Defendant Carter to "name all inmates and their numbers that were on F-unit at the time of the named events in the Civil Complaint." ECF No. 65, p. 2. Simmons argues that he needs this information because such inmates may be potential witnesses. Id. Defendant Carter objected, arguing that it would be unduly burdensome, indeed, almost impossible to identify "all inmates" who were on the unit during the extended time period covered by the allegation in the Complaint. ECF No. 72, p. 2. Such broad identification of other inmates is not properly discoverable in the context of this case. The Court agrees with the Defendant. This request is overbroad and asks for information concerning the activities of other inmates, the relevancy of which, if any, is substantially outweighed by the burden of production, confidentiality, and proportionality considerations. See Torres v. Harris, 2019 WL 265804, *1 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 18, 2019). The objection is sustained and the motion to compel this information is denied.

         III. Motion to Compel Requests for Admissions form Defendant Chiovitti (ECF No. 66)

         Next, Simmons seeks an order compelling Defendant Chiovitti to produce certain requested documents. Chiovitti has raised various objections to these requests. Upon review, Simmons' requests are more appropriately ...

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