United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
PARADISE BAXTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending before the Court are Plaintiffs objections to the
Magistrate Judge's November 20, 2019 ruling in this case.
ECF Nos. 108, 114. Because the disputed ruling is neither
erroneous nor contrary to law, the undersigned will affirm
the Magistrate Judge's November 20, 2019 Order.
Curtis Brandon is an inmate currently housed at the State
Correctional InstitutiorJ at Forest ("SCI-Forest").
In this pro se civil rights action, Plaintiff
contends that his federal constitutional rights were violated
by various employees of the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections and/or by individuals otherwise affiliated with
SCI-Forest. According to the docket, the remaining Defendants
at this juncture include Lieutenant Raymond Burkhart, Daniel
Pack, Gregory Chiles, Laura Blake, William D. Cole, Brenda
Haupt, Gina Martini, S.W. Stoddard, E. Jackson,
"Schleicher," Jacob R. Beach, Jannette M. Towner,
Sharon Price, Sarah Siegel, A. Kot, Robin M. Lewis, and Keri
course of these proceedings, Plaintiff alleged that two
corrections officials misappropriated certain documents from
his cell that are necessary in order for him to prosecute
this action. In correspondence to defense counsel dated
October 9, 2019, Plaintiff identified the missing documents.
They include: (a) written discovery requests propounded by
Plaintiff upon the Defendants; (b) 106 legal decisions that
Plaintiff copied from the law library in support of his
claims; and (c) various grievances that Plaintiff filed
through the prison grievance system between July 15, 2014 and
2017, along with the prison administration's responses.
Discouraged by the loss of these materials, Plaintiff sought
a court order that would require the Defendants to provide
him copies of the missing documents.
order entered on October 29, 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Richard A. Lanzillo denied Plaintiffs request. ECF No. 107.
As to the first group of documents, Judge Lanzillo noted that
defense counsel had already provided additional copies of the
Defendants' responses to the missing discovery, and those
responses incorporated the Plaintiffs original
interrogatories and requests for production of documents. As
to the second group of documents, the Magistrate Judge ruled
that Plaintiff could consult and copy case law and other
relevant legal authority from the resources provided in the
prison law library. Judge Lanzillo declined to impose any
obligation on defense counsel to reproduce the missing legal
decisions, given Plaintiffs inability to show that any of the
named Defendants had played a role in their loss or
confiscation. As to the third group of documents, the
Magistrate Judge instructed Plaintiff to request copies of
the missing grievances (and related responses) through the
normal prison process. Judge Lanzillo declined to impose any
obligation on the Defendants to reproduce these materials
absent evidence that Defendants had been responsible in some
way for their loss. To the extent that Plaintiff believed he
was prejudiced by the loss of the foregoing materials, Judge
Lanzillo indicated that he would address such prejudice, upon
motion, through appropriate extensions of time for Plaintiff
to respond to any motions or other submissions made by the
Defendants, "provided that Plaintiff identifies with
reasonable specificity how particular missing documents are
necessary to prepare his response or other submission."
ECF No. 107. Judge Lanzillo clarified that his ruling was
"without prejudice to Plaintiffs right to pursue
appropriate administrative or other remedies that may be
available against prison personnel who he believes were
involved in the confiscation of his property."
subsequently filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the
Magistrate Judge's October 29, 2019 text order. ECF No.
106. Therein, Plaintiff alleged that "guards 'B.
Long' and 'K. Mohney'" confiscated the
materials in question. Id. Although Plaintiff
acknowledged that he could not identify the persons
responsible for directing the actions of those officers,
Plaintiff argued that it was fair to infer responsibility on
the part of the remaining Defendants, since the confiscated
materials related specifically to Plaintiffs claims against
those individuals. Id.
Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiff s motion for
reconsideration by Order entered on November 20 2019. ECF No.
108. To the extent that Plaintiff was alleging actionable
conduct on the part of officers "B. Long" and
"K. Mohney," Judge Lanzillo noted that it was
incumbent upon Plaintiff to pursue his allegations through
the appropriate grievance process and/or through a separate
lawsuit. Id. Plaintiff subsequently filed objections
to the Magistrate Judge's November 20, 2019 Order, which
objections are now pending before the undersigned. ECF No.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), a magistrate judge may hear
and determine most non-dispositive pretrial matters. A
district judge may reconsider these determinations if the
decision was clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(A); N.L.R.B. v. Frazier, 966 F.2d
812, 816 (3d Cir. 1992). See also Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(a) (parties may file objections to a magistrate
judge's ruling on a non-dispositive matter within 14 days
after being served with the ruling; the district court
"must consider timely objections and modify or set aside
any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is
contrary to law"); LCvR 72(c)(2) (stating that, upon
review of a non-dispositive ruling, "[t]he District
Judge assigned to the case shall consider the objections and
set aside any portion of the Magistrate Judge's order
found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law").
finding is clearly erroneous '"when although there
is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire
evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.'" Anderson v. City
of Bessemer City, N.C., 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985)
(quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co.,
333 U.S. 364 (1948)). A magistrate judge's order is
contrary to law "when the magistrate judge has
misinterpreted or misapplied the applicable law."
Doe v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 237
F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006). Relevantly,
District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly
broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See
Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin.
Group Sec, Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J. 1997). When
a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary
[discovery] matter..., "courts in this district have
determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly
becomes an abuse of discretion standard." Soldi v.
Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D. Pa.
2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943
F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D. Pa. 1996)). Under that standard, a
magistrate judge's discovery ruling "is entitled to
great deference and is reversible only for abuse of
discretion." Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and
Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996); see also
Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42,
44-45 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding that discovery rulings are
reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather than de
novo standard); EEOC v. Mr. Gold, Inc., 223 F.R.D.
100, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (holding that a magistrate
judge's resolution of discovery disputes deserves
substantial deference and should be reversed only if there is
an abuse of discretion).
HSI, Inc. v. 48 States Transp., LLC, No.
4:19-CV-352, 2020 WL 32333, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 2, 2020)
(quoting Halsey v. Pfeiffer, No. 09-1138, 2010 WL
3735702, *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 17, 2010)) (alterations and
ellipsis in the original). In accordance with the foregoing
standard, Judge Lanzillo's decision in this matter may be
set aside only if it constitutes an abuse of his considerable
after careful review of Plaintiff s objections, ECF No.
, this Court discerns no error in Judge Lanzillo's
determination that neither defense counsel nor Defendants
should be compelled to provide copies of the documents that
Plaintiff claims were improperly confiscated from his cell.
Accordingly, because the Magistrate Judge did not abuse his
broad discretion, and because his ruling was neither clearly
erroneous nor contrary to law, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, this 7th
day of January, 2020, that ...