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Palakovic v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 16, 2019

RENEE and DARIAN PALAKOVIC, as Administrators of the Estate of BRANDON PALAKOVIC, Plaintiffs,



         I. Introduction

         This case arises from the death of a young man, Brandon Palakovic ("Brandon"), while incarcerated in State Correctional Institute-Cresson ("SCI Cresson") in June, 2011. (ECF No. 82 ¶¶ 15, 24, 53.) Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs Darian Palakovic and Renee Palakovic's (the "Palakovics") Motion to Compel Discovery[1] (ECF No. 128) and Defendants MHM Correctional Services, Inc. ("MHM Correctional"), Dr. Carol Eidsvoog, and Dr. Daleep Rathore's (collectively, "MHM") Motion for Protective Order. (ECF No. 133.) The Motions are fully briefed (ECF Nos. 129, 131, 132, 134) and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART both Motions

         II. Jurisdiction and Venue

         This Court has jurisdiction because the Palakovics' Eighth Amendment claims arise under federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims in this case because the state law claims form part of the same case or controversy as the federal claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

         Venue is proper because a substantial portion of the events and occurrences giving rise the claims in this case occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

         III. Procedural Background

         The Palakovics initially filed their Complaint on July 8, 2014. (ECF No. 1.) This Court dismissed the Complaint, with leave to file an Amended Complaint on June 26, 2015. (ECF No. 19.) The Palakovics filed their Amended Complaint on August 7, 2015, which this Court dismissed on February 22, 2016. (ECF Nos. 22, 43.) The Palakovics appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed and remanded on April 14, 2017. (See ECF Nos. 50, 52, 53.) The Palakovics filed a Second Amended Complaint on July 21, 2017, and a Third Amended Complaint on January 19, 2018. (ECF Nos. 59, 82.) The Third Amended Complaint contained claims against MHM for deliberate indifference, violations of the Eighth Amendment, medical neglect, wrongful death, and survival. (ECF No. 82 ¶¶ 89-121.) The Palakovics filed their Motion to Compel Discovery on August 29, 2019, and MHM filed its Motion for a Protective Order on September 5, 2019. (ECF Nos. 128, 133.)

         IV. Factual Background [2]

         A. The Death of Brandon Palakovic

         Brandon Palakovic was convicted of burglarizing an occupied structure in Perry County, Pennsylvania and sentenced to 16-48 months in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (the "DOC"). (ECF No. 82 ¶ 15.) Upon entering the DOC's custody, Brandon informed staff at State Correctional Institute-Camp Hill ("SCI Camp Hill") that he had attempted suicide in the past and was experiencing suicidal ideation. (Id. ¶ 16-17.) DOC personnel at SCI Camp Hill identified Brandon as a "suicide risk" and recommended counseling and treatment, but Brandon never received a suicide risk assessment. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19-21.) MHM personnel apparently reviewed these records at some point during Brandon's incarceration. (Id. ¶ 23.) Shortly after entering the DOC at SCI Camp Hill, the DOC transferred Brandon to SCI Cresson, where he reported further suicidal thoughts and expressed a wish to die. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Ultimately, Brandon committed suicide while incarcerated at SCI Cresson. (Id. ¶ 53.) MHM employed Dr. Eidsvoog and Dr. Rathore as mental health professionals providing psychiatric care at SCI Cresson and were aware of Brandon's history with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. (See Id. ¶¶ 28-31.) At some point following Brandon's death, SCI Cresson closed. (See ECF No. 128 at 2.)

         B. The Discovery Dispute

         The Palakovics seek an order compelling MHM to comply with three discovery requests: (1) an interrogatory requesting MHM to identify all of MHM's policies that "govern[] the employment" of Dr. Rathore and Dr. Eidsvoog while they worked at SCI Cresson between the dates of January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012 (the "Policy List") (ECF No. 128 at 1); (2) produce all Continuous Quality Improvement ("CQI") "reports, assessments, evaluations, or other CQI-denominated documents pertaining to SCI Cresson" produced by or for MHM from 2010 to its closure, as well as any other reviews related to SCI Cresson produced by or for MHM from 2010 to its closure (the "CQI Request") (id. at 2); and (3) provide a Rule 30(b)(6) deponent fully able to testify on the subjects identified in the Palakovics' Rule 30(b)(6) notice of deposition (the "30(b)(6) Notice"). (Id. at 1.)

         On June 18, 2019 the Palakovics submitted a Third Request for Production of Documents to MHM (the "June Request"). (ECF No. 129 at 1.) The Palakovics sought documents relating to communications between MHM personnel on the subjects of: (1) mental health treatment at SCI Cresson for prisoners in restrictive housing; (2) self-harm or suicide attempts while in restrictive housing; (3) MHM's suicide prevention protocol and related materials; (4) policies related to psychological evaluations of DOC inmates, specifically at SCI Cresson; (5) staffing for mental health at SCI Cresson; (6) mental health programming at SCI Cresson; (7) investigations and reports on suicide and suicide prevention at SCI Cresson; and (8) external audits of MHM's suicide prevention practices at DOC facilities. (Id. at 1-2.) MHM did not provide any documents in response to the Request for Production, and stated that all documents related to SCI Cresson were the DOC's documents, and that therefore its own policies were not relevant. (Id. at 2.)

         However, at Dr. Eidsvoog's deposition, after being asked about whether MHM had its own internal policies, she answered that they did have policies on the subjects of restraints and medications. (Id.)

         Also on June 18, 2019, Plaintiffs sent a Second Interrogatory Request to MHM (the "Interrogatory Request"), requesting identification of "all MHM policies" that governed Dr. Rathore and Dr. Eidsvoog's employment while they worked at SCI Cresson over a three year period from 2010 to 2012. (Id.) On July 22, and July 23, 2019, the Palakovics' counsel contacted MHM's counsel, seeking a response to the Interrogatory Request. (Id. at 2-3.) On July 23, 2019, MHM's counsel replied that she had located an index of policies, but not for the correct time period, and was continuing to search for an index from the correct period. (Id. at 3.)

         On July 24, 2019, MHM, in response to the Palakovics' Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice, produced Jennifer Sheptock to testify about MHM's work at SCI Cresson, regarding staffing, patient responsibilities of psychiatric staff, patient interactions, policies and practices regarding MHM's interactions with DOC staff, record keeping policies, and MHM staff's role in suicide prevention. (Id.) The 30(b)(6) Notice stated that the deponent was to have knowledge of:

1. The scope of MHM's responsibilities and work at SCI Cresson from January 1, 2010 until its closure, including the following:
a. Staffing, specifically the total number of staff at any given time as well as the staffing-to-patient ratios.
b. Patient responsibilities of MHM psychiatrists and other employees
c. Frequency and circumstances of patient interactions.
d. Polices, practices, and customs regarding interaction and collaboration with DOC psychology staff.
e. Record keeping policies and practices.
f. Role of MHM staff in suicide prevention and assessment of self-harm incidents.

(ECF No. 133-4.) The list of topics that the 30(b)(6) deponent was to testify to was apparently provided to MHM almost three months before the deposition. (Id.) Ms. Sheptock testified that she did not know whether MHM engaged in reviews or audits of employee performance at SCI Cresson, whether MHM changed or reviewed any of its policies at SCI Cresson following a Department of Justice investigation into SCI Cresson, or whether MHM engaged in any reviews of suicides or self-harm incidents. (Id. at 3-4; ECF No. 133-3 at 26-32.) Ms. Sheptock also testified that MHM's CQI reviews since 2014 include incidents of self-harm, but that she was unaware of CQI procedures prior to 2014, had not reviewed any CQI documents from SCI Cresson, and was unaware of who would have such information. (ECF No. 128 at 4; ECF No. 133-3 at 31-32.) As a result of these responses, the Palakovics' counsel stated that Ms. Sheptock was not sufficiently prepared or able to testify for MHM as a Rule 30(b)(6) deponent and terminated the deposition. (ECF No. 128 at 4; ECF No. 133-3 at 38:2-43:24.)

         On July 25, 2019, the Palakovics submitted a request for production of documents (the "CQI Request") to MHM, essentially seeking all CQI-related documents connected to SCI Cresson from 2010 until its closure, as well as any review related to SCI Cresson produced by or for MHM. (ECF No. 128 at 4.) The CQI Request asked MHM to provide:

1. All Continual (or "Continuous") Quality Improvement (CQI) reports, assessments, evaluations, or other CQI-denominated documents pertaining to SCI Cresson between 2010 until its closure that were produced by or at the b[eh]est of MHM, Inc.
2. Any reports, assessments, evaluations, audits, performance reviews, employee reviews, compliance reports, or other type of review pertaining to SCI Cresson between 2010 until its closure ...

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