United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS TO COMPEL; MOTION FOR THE
APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL ECF NO. 65 (MOTION TO COMPEL RESPONSES
TO INTERROGATORIES BY CORRECTIONAL OFFICER CARTER), ECF NO.
66 (MOTION TO COMPEL FIRST REQUEST FOR ADMISSION OF DEFENDANT
CHIOVITTI), ECF NO. 67 (MOTION TO COMPEL PRODUCTION OF
DOCUMENTS) ECF NO. 68 (MOTION FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF
RICHARD A. LANZILLO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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
Standard of Review - Motions to Compel
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.
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.
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
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,
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
Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories (ECF No. 65)
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
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.
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.
Motion to Compel Requests for Admissions form Defendant
Chiovitti (ECF No. 66)
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 ...