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Ibanez v. Miller

June 16, 2009



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently under consideration is plaintiff's motion to compel discovery. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Facts

This action proceeds on the August 15, 2007, second amended complaint. In it, plaintiff alleges that defendants M. Wright, D. Patton and M. Townsend knew that plaintiff was a member of the Mexican Mafia and also was in good standing with a different gang that plaintiff refers to as the Southern Mexicans.*fn1 Knowing this, defendants on April 4, 2006, released plaintiff to the yard, where he was attacked and seriously injured by two members of the Southern Mexicans. Defendants have answered the complaint. On October 13, 2008, plaintiff served on defendants his requests for the production of documents. Defendants served responses in which they produced some documents but made a number of objections. On December 17, 2008, plaintiff served his motion to compel. The Clerk of the Court docketed the motion on December 22, 2008. Defendants have filed an opposition to that motion.

II. Standards

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Information is relevant for purposes of discovery if "it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. Relevant information encompasses "any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). Because discovery is designed to define and clarify the issues in the case, it is not limited to the precise issues raised in the pleadings. Id., at 350-51. "The question of relevancy should be construed "liberally and with common sense" and discovery should be allowed unless the information sought has no conceivable bearing on the case." Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 610 (N. D. Cal. 1995), quoting Miller v. Panuci, 141 F.R.D. 292, 296 (C.D. Cal. 1992). The court may limit discovery if it determines the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or obtainable from a more convenient or less expensive source, the party seeking discovery had ample opportunity to obtain the information sought, or the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2). A party has a continuing duty to supplement, correct or amend discovery responses if the court so orders or if the party learns the responses were in some material respect incorrect or incomplete and the information has not otherwise been made available to other parties. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(e)(1).

Any party may request any other party produce for inspection documents including writings, drawings, graphs, charts or data compilations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a). The requesting party must identify the items to be produced and the party upon whom the request is made must make a written response stating that inspection will be permitted as requested, unless the party objects and states the basis therefor. Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b). A party may move for an order compelling discovery with respect to objections or other failure to respond to requests to produce documents. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(2)(B), 34(b).

III. Analysis

A. General Objections

Before considering the objections to plaintiff's individual requests, the court addresses defendants' general objections to plaintiff's motion to compel. Defendants assert that the court should deny plaintiff's motion to compel because plaintiff filed it late. They argue that, pursuant to the amended scheduling order, motions to compel discovery had to be filed no later than December 18, 2008. Thus, they contend, plaintiff's motion, served on December 17, 2008, but docketed on December 22, 2008, is untimely. Defs.' Opp'n, at 4. While defendants' reading of the amended schedule is correct, they ignore both the date on plaintiff's certificate of service and the mailbox rule. Plaintiff is a prisoner without counsel and the court must apply the rule of Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 270-71 (1988) (pro se habeas petitioner's notice of appeal deemed filed the date he delivered it to prison officials to be mailed to the court). Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery was filed the date he served the motion. See Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 459 (9th Cir. 1995) (prisoner mailbox rule of Houston applies to other filings, including those in civil rights actions). Caldwell v. Amend, 30 F.3d 1199, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 1994) (mailbox rule of Houston applied to pro se prisoner's motion filed pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). He served the motion on December 17, 2008, which constitutes the deemed filed date and the was timely.

B. Procedural Deficiency of Plaintiff's Motion

Defendants also contend that plaintiff's motion is procedurally defective because he has not adequately supported it. In particular, they assert that plaintiff 's motion should be denied in its entirety because plaintiff "failed to specify which requests are at issue." Defs.' Opp'n, at 5. The Local Rules of this Court require a party seeking an order to compel discovery to submit to the court the requests for production which are at issue. L. R. 34-250(c). This objection is overruled. Plaintiff submitted defendants' responses to his request for the production of documents. Defendants objected to all but one of plaintiff's thirty-three requests.*fn2 Furthermore, in his motion, plaintiff requests an order directing the defendants to "comply in full to plaintiff's request for discovery," and refers specifically to his request for the production of documents.

Pl.'s Mot. to Compel, at 1, Ex. II. The court construes plaintiff's motion as requesting rulings on each of defendants' objections. Defendants offer no reason why such a construction would be unreasonable. Therefore, the court now turns to plaintiff's specific requests and defendants' objections.

1. Request Number 1

Plaintiff seeks, "[a]ny and all grievances, complaints or other documents received by the Defendants or their agents at High Desert State Prison concerning 'cause and effect,' where actual entrapment has been believed to have been done to inmates and serious injury or death at the hands of other inmates was th end result." Defendants make a number of objections, but ultimately assert that they have no documents responsive to this request. Given defendants' representation that there are no such documents, the court does not reach defendants' other objections and denies plaintiff's motion with respect to this request.

2. Request Number 2

Plaintiff seeks "[a]ny and all grievances, complaints or other documents received by the Defendants or their agents at High Desert State Prison concerning the inadequate/poor review of inmates' case factors relevant to their program needs and the cause of any adverse effects to their program needs." Defendants object that the request is overbroad, vague and unintelligible, violates the privacy rights of other prisoners, and calls for the production of documents that are protected under state law. However, they produce one grievance, No. HDSP-D-06-0911 (IAB No. 0600494).

Plaintiff's claim that defendants allowed plaintiff to be released to the yard on April 4, 2006, when they knew plaintiff was at risk of attack by gang members is a narrow claim. Thus, insofar as plaintiff seeks grievances and complaints filed years before the events giving rise to this action, the request is temporally overbroad. However, any such grievances or complaints filed within six months preceding the events giving rise to this action are relevant insofar as they could lead to evidence establishing motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident. Defendants also object that disclosing documents responsive to this request would violate the privacy interests of other prisoners. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §§ 3321, 3370. Federal courts are not insensitive to privacy concerns that arise in discovery matters. See Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 613 (N.D. Cal. 1995). Resolving an objection based on privacy "requires a balancing of the need for information sought against the privacy right asserted." Id. Federal courts give some weight to privacy rights protected under state law, but these rights must be "balanced against the great weight afforded to federal law in civil rights cases" against corrections officials. Id. As a general matter, a protective order will "minimize the impact" of disclosure. Id. Here, defendants rely on two sections of the California Code of Regulations. The sections pertain to the release of "Case Records Files" and "Unit Health Records Material" of prisoners and parolees. However, defendants make no particular argument regarding their applicability. Neither do they engage in a balancing of the interests at stake. Therefore, the objection is overruled. Defendants must supplement their response with grievances and complaints filed within six months of the events giving rise to this action. Defendants may redact the names and identification numbers of other prisoners who are not a party to this action.

3. Request Number 3

Plaintiff requests "[a]ny and all policies, directives, or instructions to staff concerning the screening process and case factors review of newly [sic] arrivals (inmates) to the institution." Defendants object that the request is overborad in time and scope, and the terms "screening process," "case factors" and "newly [sic] arrivals," are vague. The concerns are well-taken. However, defendants produced various sections of title 15 of the California Code of Regulations, various provisions of the Department Operations Manual, and a document called, "Initial Housing Review." It appears that defendants have been able to discern what documents plaintiff sought and have construed his request accordingly. Moreover, ...

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