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Vo v. Gilmore

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 23, 2019

THUY VO, Plaintiff,

          J. Nicholas Ranjan Magistrate District Judge


          Maureen P. Kelly Judge

         Plaintiff Thuy Vo ("Plaintiff) initiated this pro se prisoner civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 15, 2018. ECF Nos. 1, 8. Plaintiff is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene"), and he asserts claims against three SCI-Greene employees. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to bodily privacy through its policy of video-recording strip searches.

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion for an Order Compelling Discovery ("Motion to Compel Discovery") filed by Plaintiff and Defendants' Response thereto. ECF Nos. 61, 63. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs Motion to Compel Discovery is denied.


         Plaintiffs Complaint was filed on November 27, 2018, and he later filed the operative Amended Complaint on February 22, 2019. ECF Nos. 8, 26. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights by "implement[ing] a policy of video-recording strip searches of inmates going to, and coming from contact visits, and while using the bathroom." ECF No. 26 ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that inmates are subjected to strip searches "with their genitals and private parts in full view of a 360 degree ceiling camera every time they wish to have contact visits, or use the bathroom during visits." Id. ¶ 12. These recordings are stored and "viewed at all times by SCI-Greene's security staff," which includes prison officials not present during. the search and individuals of the opposite sex. Id. ¶ 13.

         On March 11, 2019, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint. ECF No. 30. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed because the searches are reasonable under the standard set forth in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 558 (1979), and therefore do not violate Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment rights. ECF No. 31. In support of their Motion, Defendants relied in part on a declaration from Defendant Michael Zaken (the "Zaken Declaration"). Zaken identified various precautions that SCI-Greene officials purportedly have taken to ensure that inmates' private areas are not recorded during strip searches and to limit the circumstances in which the videos are viewed. ECF No. 31-1. The Zaken Declaration that Defendants filed is partially redacted. Id.

         On July 24, 2019, the Court issued a Report and Recommendation which recommended that the Motion to Dismiss be denied. ECF No. 44. The Court concluded that "Plaintiffs allegations that nude images of Plaintiff are recorded and stored for an unknown amount of time, are viewed by various prison officials, including officials of the opposite sex, and that this policy was imposed for retaliatory purposes, raise questions of fact regarding the reasonableness of relevant searches under Bell and therefore preclude dismissal at this early stage." Id. at 5. United States District Judge Nicholas J. Ranjan adopted the Report and Recommendation on August 13, 2019. ECF No. 47.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) defines the permissible scope of discovery as follows:

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).

         Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery, and the extent to which discovery may be compelled, are matters consigned to the Court's discretion and judgment. It has long been held that decisions relating to the scope of discovery permitted under Rule 26 also rest in the sound discretion of the Court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). A party moving to compel discovery bears the initial burden of proving the relevance of the requested information. Morrison v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 203 F.R.D. 195, 196 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Once that initial burden is met, "the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevance by demonstrating that the requested discovery (1) does not come within the broad scope of relevance as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure." In re Urethane Antitrust Litig., 261 F.R.D. 570, 573 (D. Kan. 2009).

         III. ...

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