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Low v. Stanton

January 6, 2009

TONY RICHARD LOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY R. STANTON, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



ORDER

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and state law. Before the court are two motions to compel further discovery brought by plaintiff.

By way of background, in his complaint plaintiff alleges that while he was detained at the Solano County Jail, on three occasions defendants Garrison and/or Rodriguez used excessive force against him. First, plaintiff alleges that on June 30, 2005, while he was talking to another officer about using the telephone, defendant Garrison grabbed plaintiff's arms, slammed his face and chest into the wall and shoved plaintiff up the stairs to his cell. (Compl. at 7.) Second, plaintiff alleges that on July 4, 2005, he pressed the unit intercom button several times and requested that the phone be turned on when defendant Garrison threatened plaintiff that if he did not stop pushing the intercom button, he would come out of the unit control tower and "beat my ass." (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff claims that when he continued to make his requests to use the phone, defendants Garrison and Rodriguez opened the day room unit door and Garrison struck him several times with closed fists. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants Garrison and Rodriguez then dragged him across the concrete floor and kicked him inside his cell. (Id.) Third, plaintiff claims that on July 19, 2005, defendant Garrison and another officer searched his cell, used threatening language while doing so and asked plaintiff about a missing TV outlet fixture. (Id. at 9.) Because plaintiff feared he would again be assaulted by Garrison he fled, running toward an area where he knew there was a video monitoring system. (Id. 9-10.) Plaintiff claims he was chased by defendant Garrison, fell to the floor and that Garrison then punched him repeatedly in the head and neck area. (Id. at 10.)

I. Motion to Compel Production of Documents (Court Docket No. 114)

Plaintiff served defendants with four sets of requests for the production of documents containing 106 requests for documents. Plaintiff contends that defendants failed to properly respond to 89 of those requests. (Reply at 2.) Plaintiff now seeks an order compelling the production of incident reports, grievances, personnel records, diagrams, and inmate rosters. In his reply brief, plaintiff clarifies that his motion to compel concerns eight of his requests for production of documents. (Id.)

A. Incident Reports

Plaintiff served three requests for the production of documents concerning incident reports and received the following responses.

Set One: Request for Production of Documents No. 4

Any and all Incident Reports involving the use of force by any of the named defendants in this action form [sic] June 29, 2004 to November 2, 2005.

RESPONSE:

Objection. Overly broad, harassing, and burdensome. Incident reports in the Solano County Jail are filed by inmate name. The Solano County Jail houses up to 1064 inmates and the population is in daily fluctuation. To locate all incident reports involving the 19 defendants named in this action would require reviewing the incident report files of every inmate housed in the Solano County Jail during a period of time in excess of 16 months and looking at each individual incident report to determine whether any particular report involved any of the 19 defendants. In addition, this request seeks documents which could invade other inmate's [sic] rights to privacy. (MTC, Ex. C at 3-4.)

Set Two: Request for Production of Documents No. 21

Any and all incident reports written by defendants RODRIGUEZ and GARRISON involving the use of force between the period of June 2004 and January 2006.

RESPONSE: Objection. Compound. Overly broad, harassing, and burdensome. Incident reports in the Solano County Jail are filed by inmate name. The Solano County Jail houses up to 1064 inmates and the population is in daily fluctuation. To locate all incident reports involving defendants RODRIGUEZ and GARRISON would require reviewing the incident report files of every inmate housed in the Solano County Jail during a twenty month period of time and looking at each individual incident report to determine whether any particular report was written by either RODRIGUEZ or GARRISON. In addition, this request seeks documents which could invade other inmate's [sic] rights to privacy.

(Id., Ex. E at 9.)

Set Four: Request No. 21

Any and all incident reports written by defendants Rodriguez and Garrison involving the use of force between the period of June 2004 and January 2006.

Defendants may sanitize the incident reports blacking out the names of all inmates involved in the interests [sic] of privacy.

Plaintiff would sugjest [sic] that the defendants query the Solano County Sheriff's Office Custody Division's computer system by defendants [sic] name and identification number in order to obtain the requested documents.

In any case make an effort to obtain the requested documents or document your reasons for not making the effort.

RESPONSE: Objection. Compound. Vague and ambiguous as to whether the plaintiff is requesting all incident reports concerning himself or all incident reports prepared by RODRIGUEZ and GARRISON involving the use of force. If the plaintiff is requesting the former, all incident reports concerning himself have already been produced. If the plaintiff is requesting the latter, responding parties further object that the request is overly-broad, harassing, and burdensome. Incident reports in the Solano County Jail are filed by inmate name. The Solano County Jail houses up to 1064 inmates and the population is in daily fluctuation. To locate all incident reports written by RODRIGUEZ and GARRISON involving the use of force between June 2004 and January 2006 would require reviewing the incident report files of every inmate housed in the Solano County Jail during a twenty month period of time and looking at each individual incident repot to determine whether any particular report was written by either RODRIGUEZ or GARRISON and, further, whether it involved the use of force. In addition, this request seeks documents which could invade other inmates' rights to privacy.

(Id., Ex. I at 13-14.)

In his motion, plaintiff argues that discovery should not be denied because defendants have an inefficient system for maintaining their records, citing Fagan v. District of Columbia, 136 F.R.D. 5, 7 (D. D.C. 1991). (MTC at 4.) Plaintiff states in his declaration that he needs the incident report written by defendants Garrison and Rodriguez "to establish their personal frequency and propensity to use force." (Id., Pl.'s Decl, ¶ 23 at 5.)*fn1

In opposing the motion to compel, defendants have submitted the declaration of Sergeant Donna Cameron, a classification sergeant at the Solano County Jail's Fairfield detention facility. (Opp'n, filed May 2, 2008, Donna Cameron Decl. (Cameron Decl.)*fn2 at 1-2.) Sergeant Cameron explains that incident reports are maintained only electronically rather than on paper. (Cameron Decl. at 2.) She states that incident reports are retrievable by entering in the computer the name of the inmate or the incident report number. (Id.) She declares that the computer system does not allow for the retrieval of incident reports based on the name of the officer who authored a particular report, the nature of the incident, or the staff person who was the subject of the grievance. (Id.) Thus, Sergeant Cameron states:

To locate all incident reports or inmate grievances involving a particular staff person at the Solano County jail over a specified time period would require reviewing every incident report or inmate grievance of every inmate housed in the Solano County jail during the specified period of time and looking at each individual incident report or inmate grievance to determine whether any particular report or grievance involved the specified staff person.

(Id.)

Defendants argue that plaintiff seeks the production of incident reports which are not relevant to this action and not likely to lead to evidence that would be admissible at trial in any event. (MTC at 3-4, 7-8.) In this regard, defendants argue that plaintiff has already been provided incident reports that involved himself, producing incident reports unrelated to this action would invade the privacy of the other jail inmates who are the subject of those reports, and reports regarding other incidents involving different inmates and possibly different officers are not relevant to this action since the issue of whether excessive or proper force was used against plaintiff will be determined based on the facts of this case. (Id. at 4-5 and 8.)

In his reply, plaintiff argues that defendants have "no standing" to argue that the jail filing system prevents them from producing the requested documents or to suggest how plaintiff should conduct his discovery. (Reply at 4.) Plaintiff also disputes defendants' contention that plaintiff's discovery efforts are an attempt to harass defendants or that the discovery requests are invalid because of compound language. (Id. at 6-7.)

Plaintiff's motion seeking the production of incident reports will be denied. The court agrees that plaintiff's request for production number 4 is overly broad since plaintiff's excessive force claim concerns only defendants Garrison and Rodriguez. In addition, the court is not persuaded that the production of all incident reports written by defendants Garrison or Rodriguez over an 18 month period (request number 28 for sets two and four), would produce any information relevant to this action. To the extent that plaintiff seeks such reports in an attempt to show that defendants Garrison and Rodriguez had a propensity for using excessive force, such evidence would be inadmissible to prove conduct. See Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence ("Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith."). As one district court has stated in denying a similar discovery request:

The plaintiffs might further contend that the documents could lead to admissible evidence against the individual officers in question, as these past incidents of excessive force might bear on the case at issue. This sort of past conduct evidence is not admissible in federal courts, with very narrow exceptions. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). It further appears that the documents are not likely to lead to admissible evidence. The liability of the individual police officer arises out of this particular incident. Evidence of other similar incidents could only show a propensity for excessive use of force. This is the sort of conduct in conformity with character evidence which 404(b) prohibits.

Segura v. City of Reno, 116 F.R.D. 42, 44 (D. Nev. 1987).

In addition, the character traits of defendants Garrison and Rodriguez are not an essential element of plaintiff's excessive force claim. Moreover, the granting of plaintiff's overly broad request would require the production of incident reports, which although authored by defendants Garrison or Rodriguez, involved the use of legitimate force by officers, including officers not parties to this action. Finally, the court is persuaded that the discovery request is burdensome and to some extent would invades the privacy of other inmates. ...


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