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Beckner v. El Cajon Police Dep't

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


May 9, 2008

CHARLES BECKNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EL CAJON POLICE DEPARTMENT, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara L. Major United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO COMPEL [Doc. No. 45]

On March 28, 2008, Defendants in the above matter filed a motion to compel discovery pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 37, alleging that Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, had failed to answer interrogatories and produce requested documents. Doc. No. 45 ("Mtn. to Compel"). On April 15, 2008, Plaintiff opposed the motion. Doc. No. 56. The Court took the matter under submission pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1).

Having considered all of the briefing and supporting documents presented, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to compel is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows.

BACKGROUND

In January 2007, El Cajon Police Officers Jacob Cutting, Sean Webb, T. Mandsur, and Ehler (full names unknown) responded to a call reporting an individual who had attempted to cash a stolen check. Doc. No. 50 at 3-10 (police reports). When the officers arrived at the store, Plaintiff, who matched the description of the suspect, fled. Id. The officers pursued and tackled Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff struggled against the officers and, as they were attempting to handcuff and subdue him, the officers dislocated Plaintiff's elbow, injured his nose, and caused cuts, scrapes and an allegedly broken thumb. Id. at 11-13 (medical reports); First Amended Complaint ("FAC") at 8.*fn1 After handcuffing Plaintiff, the officers called the paramedics, who confirmed that Plaintiff's elbow was broken. Id. at 4, 8; FAC at 8. Plaintiff subsequently was taken to the police station for processing, and then to the hospital for his injuries. Id. at 8; FAC at 8.

On September 10, 2007, Plaintiff pled guilty in San Diego Superior Court to commercial burglary and resisting arrest, in violation of California Penal Code §§ 69 & 470. Doc. No. 21-2. While incarcerated, Plaintiff sued the officers involved in his arrest and the City of El Cajon. FAC. Plaintiff alleges that defendant officers "brutally beat" him and subsequently denied him proper, and sufficiently prompt, health care, in violation of the Constitution, civil rights statutes, and laws of tort. Id. Plaintiff also claims that the officers and City of El Cajon have adopted "the custom and policy of denying individuals in their care proper medical attention." Id. at 4. Defendants raise a number of affirmative defenses, including Plaintiff's contributory negligence, and Defendants' qualified and absolute immunity based on their good-faith actions and status as government actors. Answer at 2-4.

In December 2007, the district judge partially granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FAC, Doc. No. 29, and Defendants answered the remaining claims in January 2008, Answer. On February 21, 2008, Defendants timely served on Plaintiff twelve special interrogatories, Doc. No. 45-3 at 4-6 ("Interrogs."), and a request for production of documents, id. at 8-10 ("Requests for Production"). Both the interrogatories and the document request primarily concern the factual and documentary bases for Plaintiff's allegations of harm and damages arising from the arrest. Interrogs.; Requests for Production.

On approximately March 13, 2008, Plaintiff sent Defendants a document titled "Answers and Objections to Defendants [sic] Interrogatories." Doc. No. 45-3 at 12-13. In this document, Plaintiff objected to each of Defendants' twelve interrogatories, stating for each: "In answer to Question [1, 2, etc.]... The Plaintiff objects to question [1, 2, etc.]." Id. Plaintiff provided no further grounds for his objections.

Several days later, on approximately March 16, 2008, Plaintiff sent Defendants a letter. Id. at 19-20 ("Pl. Letter"). In relevant part, this letter stated:

... This letter is in regards to your request for Production of Documents.

I have already sent to you copies of the police reports and also pictures along with some medical records that I plan on producing as evidence. I am also planning on calling Artemis Whalum as a witness as well as [illegible name]. Artemis Whalum is currently in custody and a witness of Jacob Cuttings [sic] abusive tactics. [Illegible name] is not in custody and he is a witness to the incident at hand.

Id. at 19.

On March 25, 2008, Defendants faxed a "meet and confer" letter to Plaintiff. Doc. No. 45-3 at 15. The letter stated that Plaintiff had not provided sufficient justification for objecting to the interrogatories, and that, if Defendants did not receive complete answers by March 27, 2008, they would file a motion to compel, and request attorneys fees incurred in preparing the motion. Id. On approximately April 1, 2008, while still declining to provide any information, Plaintiff amended his responses to Defendants' interrogatories, stating more specific objections. Doc. No. 47 at 4-5.

DISCUSSION

The scope of discovery is defined by Rule 26(b), which permits litigants to obtain discovery regarding "any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party . . ." Rule 26(b)(1). In the discovery context, relevant information includes any information "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence," and need not be admissible at trial. Id. District courts enjoy broad discretion both to determine relevancy for discovery purposes, see Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 751 (9th Cir. 2002), and to limit discovery to prevent its abuse, see Rule 26(b)(2).

A motion to compel is appropriate when a party fails to provide responses to interrogatories submitted under Rule 33, or fails to produce relevant, non-privileged documents requested pursuant to Rule 34. Rule 37(a)(2)(B). An evasive or incomplete answer or response to a discovery request is "to be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond." Rule 37(a)(4). A motion to compel must include certification that the movant has "in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make disclosure or discovery." Rule 37(a)(1).

The party seeking to compel discovery has the burden of establishing that its request satisfies the relevancy requirements of Rule 26(b)(1). Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 610 (N.D. Cal. 1995). Thereafter, the party opposing discovery has the burden of showing that the discovery should be prohibited, and the burden of clarifying, explaining, and supporting its objections. DIRECTV, Inc. v. Trone, 209 F.R.D. 455, 458 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (citing Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975)).

A. INTERROGATORIES

Defendants served Plaintiff with twelve interrogatories, and Plaintiff objected to all of them. Doc. No. 45-3 at 12-13 (first set of objections); Doc. No. 47 at 4-5 (amended objections). Defendants argue that because Plaintiff's answers are "evasive and incomplete," they constitute a failure to respond under Rule 37(a)(4), necessitating an order to compel. Doc. No. 47 at 1-2. Plaintiff responds that his objections were proper. Reply at 1-2.*fn2

An interrogatory may relate to "any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Rules 33(a)(2) & 26(b)(1). As stated above, relevant information for discovery purposes includes any information "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence," and need not be admissible at trial. Rule 26(b)(1). The responding party must either answer or object to each interrogatory. Rule 33(b). Answers must be made "separately and fully in writing under oath," and should the party object, "the grounds for objecting to an interrogatory must be stated with specificity." Rule 33(b)(3)-(4). When a party files a motion to compel responses to interrogatories, the burden is on the non-moving party to justify his or her objections or failure to provide complete responses. Rule 33(a); Adv. Comm. Notes (1970).

1. Plaintiff Must Answer Interrogatory Number One

Defendants' interrogatory number one asks Plaintiff if he ingested any intoxicating substances within twelve hours of the arrest underlying his claim and, if so "what was taken, the time and the quantity." Interrogs. Plaintiff objects, stating that the question is "more inflamatory [sic] than probative." Doc. No. 47 at 4.

This is not a proper objection. Plaintiff does not explain what he means by "inflammatory," nor does he provide any support for the contention that the interrogatory is objectionable on these grounds.

Rule 33(b)(4) (the "grounds for objecting to an interrogatory must be stated with specificity"). While Plaintiff's objection recalls the Federal Rules of Evidence's balancing of probative versus prejudicial value, admissibility under evidentiary rules is not an issue during discovery, as discoverable information "need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Rule 26(b)(1); see Fed. R. Evid. 403. The proper inquiry is therefore whether the interrogatory is relevant, not whether it is inflammatory or prejudicial. Rule 26(b)(1).

Because the requested information may relate to, inter alia, Plaintiff's behavior during, or recollection of, the disputed incident, the question of whether or not Plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of, or in the hours preceding, the arrest is "relevant to any party's claim or defense." Rules 26(b) & 33(a)(2). Plaintiff is therefore ordered to "fully" answer interrogatory number one. Rule 33(b)(3).*fn3

2. Interrogatories Four, and Six through Eight are Relevant and Plaintiff Must Answer Them

Plaintiff objects to Defendants' interrogatories four, and six through eight on the grounds that they are "irrelevant." Doc. No. 47 at 4-5. These interrogatories request Plaintiff to identify all people, list all documents, and state all facts supporting his contention that Defendants improperly denied him medical care after the arrest. Interrogs.

Plaintiff's FAC alleges that Defendants "have adopted the custom and policy of denying individuals in their care proper medical attention" and that they "denied Plaintiff [] proper medical care with deliberate indifference." FAC at 4-6. Defendants' interrogatories four, and six through eight, which ask Plaintiff to provide information supporting these contentions, are directly relevant to both Plaintiff's claims and Defendants' defenses, and are thus discoverable. Rules 33(a)(2) & 26(b)(1). Plaintiff is therefore ordered to answer these interrogatories fully. Rule 33(b)(3).

3. Defendants Fail to Demonstrate that Interrogatories Two, and Nine through Eleven are Relevant, and Plaintiff is Therefore Not Required to Answer Them

Plaintiff also objects to Defendants' interrogatories two, and nine through eleven on the grounds that they are "irrelevant." Doc. No. 47 at 4-5. Defendants do not address this objection. While the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure create "a broad right of discovery," the "right of a party to obtain discovery is not unlimited." Epstein v. MCA, Inc., 54 F.3d 1422, 1423 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation and quotation omitted). As stated above, per Rule 26(b)(1), all discovery must be "relevant," and the party seeking to compel discovery has the burden of establishing that its request satisfies the relevancy requirements of Rule 26. Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 610. Defendants have not met this threshold burden in response to these three interrogatories.

Interrogatory number two asks Plaintiff to list "all persons with whom you had any contact for the 24 hours preceding the [contested arrest]. The term list shall mean to state the name, and last known address and phone number of each person." Interrogs. (emphasis excluded).

Plaintiff's claims center on Defendants' allegedly abusive tactics during the course of the arrest, and their alleged failure to provide him with sufficient and prompt medical care. FAC. Defendants do not explain how Plaintiff's provision of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of "all persons with whom he had contact" in the twenty-four hours prior to the arrest - which by the breadth of the question could include such individuals as food vendors, taxi drivers, and family members- is "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence" concerning these claims or Defendants' defenses against them. Rule 26(b)(1). Defendants thus fail to meet their burden in this respect, Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 610, and Plaintiff is not required to answer interrogatory number two. See Rivera v. Nibco, Inc., 364 F.3d 1057, 1072 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting generally that district courts "need not condone the use of discovery to engage in 'fishing expedition[s]'") (citation and quotation omitted).

Interrogatories nine and ten ask Plaintiff to "state your resident addresses for the last five years and the dates you lived at each residence," and to list "all other occupants of the residence at those times." Interrogs. Again, the Defendants fail to explain how Plaintiff's previous residences and potential house-mates pertain to whether or not Defendants wrongfully injured Plaintiff during the course of his arrest, or whether he received appropriate medical care. See , 162 F.R.D. at 610; Rivera, 364 F.3d at 1072. Plaintiff is therefore not required to answer interrogatories nine and ten.

C. Plaintiff's Answers to Interrogatories Three, Five, and Twelve Are Insufficient, and He Must Answer Them

Interrogatory number three asks Plaintiff to "state all facts which support your contention that the defendants denied you proper medical care with deliberate indifference ..." Interrogs. Plaintiff failed to answer this question, merely stating that "he has already provided to defendant counsel all supporting facts and documentation." Doc. No. 47 at 4.

This is insufficient. "Each interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing," Rule 33(b)(3), and an "evasive or incomplete" answer must be treated as a failure to answer, Rule 17(a)(4). The interrogatory asks for a set of facts, not documents, yet Plaintiff fails to provide a single fact in response to Defendants' question. Instead, he puts the burden on Defendants to sift through all discovery provided thus far, searching for those facts they can assume support Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's answer is therefore both evasive and incomplete. He is thus ordered to supplement his response by stating in writing "all facts which support [his] contention that the defendants denied [him] proper medical care with deliberate indifference." Doc. No. 47 at 4.*fn4

Interrogatory number five requests Plaintiff to "list all documents that support your contention that the defendants denied you proper medical care with deliberate indifference ..." Id. Plaintiff failed to properly answer this question as well, stating that he "has already provided defense counsel with documentation." Doc. No. 47 at 4-5. This is an incomplete answer under Rule 37(4). As stated above, rather than broadly assert that he already provided Defendants with all documents, Plaintiff is required to fully answer interrogatory number five and state which of those documents support the argument that Defendants denied him proper medical care. Rule 33(b)(3); U.S. ex rel. O'Connell, 245 F.R.D. at 650; Caliper Technologies Corp., 213 F.R.D. at 560; see infra n. 4 (describing inapplicability of Rule 35(d)'s option to list business records rather than state facts).

Defendants' interrogatory number twelve requests Plaintiff to list "all economic damages by title and amount which you are seeking in this action," and defines economic damages as "those monetary amounts which were incurred by you as a result of the incident, including but not limited to medical services (identified by each provider to whom the amount was incurred), loss of income, property damage, or other out-of-pocket monetary losses." Interrogs. In response, Plaintiff states "[t]he Plaintiff has already given the defense counsel a figure as to what is sought," though he does not specify when or where he provided that information, or even what the figure is. Doc. No. 47 at 5.

Again, each interrogatory must "to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing." Rule 33(b)(3). Plaintiff neither objects to this interrogatory (and the Court sees no grounds for such objection), nor answers it fully in writing, and therefore fails to meet his duty under Rule 33. Plaintiff's statement that he has already provided defense counsel with a demand is not a proper answer. Defendants' request for information is necessary to assess the reasonableness of Plaintiff's claims and assemble a defense. To address these issues, Plaintiff is required to give Defendants an itemized list describing his specific damages and stating the corresponding monetary loss.

Plaintiff's reference to a previous "figure as to what is sought" does not provide such a list, either standing alone or by reference to other documents. Though Plaintiff has made two monetary demands, one for $40,000,000, FAC at 9, and another proposing a settlement range of $30,000-$40,000, Doc. No. 45-3 at 19, neither of these "lists economic damages by title and amount," as requested by Defendants, nor does Plaintiff even specify to which demand he refers. Plaintiff is therefore ordered to "fully" answer interrogatory twelve. Rule 33(b)(3); see also E.E.O.C. v. American Home Furnishings, Inc., 220 Fed.Appx. 704, 706 (9th Cir. 2007) (proper answer to interrogatory seeking list of damages provides "precise measure of damages [] sought").

B. REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

On February 21, 2008, concurrent with their interrogatories, Defendants propounded on Plaintiff a Request for Production of Documents. Request for Production. Because Plaintiff did not reply to this request in any way, either by making the sought documents available or by properly objecting, Defendants move to compel Plaintiff's response. Mtn. to Compel; Doc. No. 47 at 2.*fn5

Defendants propounded their request for production pursuant to Rule 34, which permits "a party to serve on any other party" a request to produce for inspection "any designated documents ... from which information can reasonably be obtained" that are in "the responding party's possession, custody, or control." Rule 34(a). The response to such a request "must either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state an objection to the request, including the reasons." When a party fails to respond to a request to produce, the court may compel discovery pursuant to Rule 37(a)(3)(B)(iv).

Defendants' request for production asks Plaintiff to produce all documents supporting his contention that Defendants "denied [him] proper medical care with deliberate indifference," that Defendants "denied [him] health care," and which "support [his] claim for economic damages" instant action and is bound by the rules governing litigation. He is therefore warned that further violations of his responsibilities as a litigant, such as violations of this order to compel, may result in the imposition of monetary sanctions, evidentiary sanctions, and/or the dismissal of his case. See Rules 11 & 37 (court's authority to impose sanctions for violations of rules of procedure); Chambers v. NASCO, 501 U.S. 32, 45 (1991) (court's "inherent" power to impose sanctions); CivLR 83.1 ("failure to comply with ... any order of the court may be ground for imposition by the court of ... monetary sanctions or attorney's fees and costs").

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to compel is GRANTED IN PART as follows:

(1) Plaintiff is ordered to answer Defendants' special interrogatories one, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and twelve as propounded to Plaintiff in Doc. No. 45-3 at 4-6. These interrogatories shall be answered "separately and fully in writing under oath," as required by Rule 33. Plaintiff shall mail the answers to Defendants by May 27, 2008;

(2) Plaintiff is not required to answer Defendants' special interrogatories two, nine, ten, and eleven;

(3) Plaintiff shall respond to Defendants' request to produce, Doc. No. 45-3 at 8-10, by listing all documents within his "possession, custody, or control" that properly fall within the scope of Defendants' requests, and by providing copies of, or access to, all such documents. Rule 34(a)(1) & (b)(2)(B);

(4) No sanctions will be awarded at this time. However, Plaintiff is hereby warned that failure to comply with any of this Court's orders or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may result in the imposition of sanctions including monetary sanctions, evidentiary sanctions and/or the dismissal or default of his case.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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