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Mitchell v. Felker

September 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard A. Jones



This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Robert Mitchell's motion (Dkt. # 26), to compel discovery responses, his motion (Dkt. # 28) for sanctions because Defendants failed to respond timely to the motion to compel, and his unopposed motion (Dkt. # 43) for service of his amended complaint*fn1 on two newly added Defendants. For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS the motion to compel, DENIES the motion for sanctions, GRANTS the motion for service, and makes additional orders to begin bringing this action to a resolution.


Mr. Mitchell is incarcerated at the California State Penitentiary in Sacramento ("CSP-Sacramento"), and has been since December 2007. Prior to that, he was incarcerated at High Desert State Prison ("HDSP"). He is African-American. He contends that while at HDSP, he and all other African-American inmates were placed on lockdown status for fourteen months, which included the loss of daily exercise time. Mr. Mitchell contends that he requires daily exercise to recuperate from arthroscopic surgery, and that he was unable to do so during the lockdown.

Mr. Mitchell filed at least one administrative complaint regarding the lockdown. He also apparently filed a state-court petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In response to these actions as well as several prior lawsuits Mr. Mitchell has filed against prison officials, he contends that prison officials retaliated against him. Among other things, they allegedly increased his security housing level, and transferred him to CSP-Sacramento, which is a maximum security prison. He contends that officials transferred him to moot his habeas corpus petition and to chill the exercise of his right to file grievances and lawsuits.

He filed this suit in May 2008. The suit was assigned to the undersigned judge in January 2009. The court granted Mr. Mitchell in forma pauperis status in May 2009, and ordered service of his complaint on approximately 20 prison official Defendants in August 2009. On November 10, 2009, the court entered an order setting a pretrial schedule and a March 31, 2010 discovery deadline. Mr. Mitchell served four sets of discovery requests before the end of that month, comprised of a set of interrogatories and a set of requests for production of documents ("RFPs") to Defendant Felker, and a set of interrogatories and RFPs to Defendant Tilton. The RFPs sought documents that are facially relevant to this action, including copies of policies relating to lockdowns and exercise and reports and correspondence regarding the lockdown(s) involving Mr. Mitchell. The interrogatories sought information on the same subjects.

In early January 2010, Defendants responded to Mr. Mitchell's discovery. They produced no documents, and they offered no substantive response to any interrogatory. Their responses consisted entirely of objections. The objections, in turn, were wholly non-substantive, almost entirely boilerplate, and sometimes nonsensical. Mr. Mitchell's discovery requests were brief and clear; yet every objection insisted that they were vague or unintelligible. Defendants often objected that a particular request "assumes facts," whatever that might mean. Defendants contended that Mr. Mitchell sought documents or information subject to the attorney client privilege, but did not produce a privilege log or otherwise explain that objection. In short, Defendants' responses served only to obstruct discovery; no good faith basis for the objections is apparent.

Mr. Mitchell filed a motion to compel on February 17, 2010. The memorandum accompanying the motion was 70 pages long. Mr. Mitchell separately addressed every one of his discovery requests and every one of Defendants' objections. He explained how each request sought relevant information, and how Defendants' objections were unfounded.

Defendants' response to the motion to compel was due 21 days later, on March 10. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(l). They did not timely respond. On March 12, Mr. Mitchell filed a motion to treat Defendants' failure to respond as a waiver to opposition of the motion.

On March 15, Defendants filed a two-page opposition to the motion to compel. The court reproduces the entirety of the substance of their opposition below:

Defendants served substantive good-faith objections to the subject discovery. Many, if not most, of the requests were ambiguous in their language, compound, and overbroad. However, the objections stated in Defendants' responses are clearly set forth and are self-explanatory. None of the objections were taken or stated in bad faith or to avoid discovery.

The request and interrogatories were stated in unclear language and were largely compound. . . .

Further, Plaintiff never sent any letter addressing his concerns about Defendants' responses, in an ...

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