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Fisher v. Houser

November 23, 2010

KENNETH FISHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY HOUSER, SAN DIEGO COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF; AND CHRIS HYDAR, SAN DIEGO COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bernard G. Skomal United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER IN RE JOINT MOTION FOR DETERMINATION OF DISCOVERY DISPUTE

On August 11, 2010, Plaintiff Kenneth Fisher and Defendants Jeffrey Houser and Chris Hydar filed a joint motion for determination of discovery dispute regarding Plaintiff's request for production of peace officer personnel and internal affairs records. (Doc. No. 13.) Defendants object to the production of this material asserting that it is irrelevant, confidential under state law, and privileged under state and federal law.

Dispute Background

Plaintiff brought this case against Defendants alleging causes of action for: 1) warrantless seizure under 42 U.S.C. §1983; and 2) unreasonable seizure: excessive force under 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Doc. No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff contends that he was falsely arrested and subjected to excessive force in the context of a law enforcement contact arising from Plaintiff sleeping in his car. The parties' joint motion for determination of discovery dispute concerns five requests for production of peace office personnel and internal affairs records. In response to these requests, Defendants assert in the joint motion that: a.) records are irrelevant and cannot lead to admissible evidence; b.) material is private and confidential under state law; c.) material is subject to the official information privilege; d.) the requested internal affairs reports and performance evaluations are protected from disclosure by the federal required reports privilege; e.) material is subject to the self-critical analysis privilege; and f.) material is subject to the deliberative process privilege.*fn1 (Doc. No. 13 at 3-10.)

The parties, by Court order, have submitted supplemental briefing on the privileges claimed, the declaration from the agency official asserting the official information privilege as required by Hampton v. City of San Diego, 147 F.R.D. 227 (S.D. Cal. 1993), and a privilege log. (Doc. Nos. 16, 17, & 20.) Defendants have also lodged with the Court the documents identified in the privilege log for in camera review.

Discussion

I. Relevancy

The Court must first determine whether the documents Plaintiff seeks are relevant. Defendants have objected to Plaintiff's requests No. 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 on the grounds that they seek irrelevant information.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter that is "not privileged" and "relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Furthermore, "[t]he information sought need not be admissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. A relevant matter is "any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters 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, it is not limited to only those specific issues raised in the pleadings. Id.

A. Request No. 6: Copies of all reports, interviews, witness statements, investigative summaries or any other document or tape recording generated as a result of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's investigation of the incident and/or citizen's complaint which is the subject of this lawsuit including but not limited to the complete internal affairs division investigation of this incident including its conclusions

The internal documents concerning the incident from which this lawsuit arises are clearly relevant and within the scope of discovery. These documents reflect Plaintiff's complaint of excessive force, the names of the deputies involved, witnesses identified, as well as findings and conclusions about the event. The Court finds that documents related to the incident that is the subject of this lawsuit are relevant. These documents are identified in the privilege log as p0001-p0053.

B. Request No. 7: Copies of all records of reports or complaints filed, pending, completed and/or otherwise made alleging the use of excessive force, aggressive conduct, unnecessary violence, unnecessary force, and/or any other improprieties by Defendants (regardless of the outcome, disposition or result of the complaint, report or investigation)

The Court finds that Plaintiff's request for other reports or complaints is overbroad, as Plaintiff requests reports or complaints made against Defendants for any improprieties. The Court finds this request is relevant only to the extent that it seeks records of reports or complaints against the named Defendants that allege excessive force, aggressive conduct, unnecessary violence or unnecessary force. Such documents may lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, as information contained therein could arguably be used pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) or 608(b) and may be relevant on the issue of punitive damages. See Hampton v. City of San Diego, 147 F.R.D. 227, 229 (S.D. Cal. 1993) (finding information concerning other instances of conduct relevant to punitive damages as it "may lead to evidence of a continuing course of conduct reflecting malicious intent). After reviewing the documents submitted to the Court for in camera review, the Court finds that p0078-0079, p0081, and p0175-0177 are irrelevant and unlikely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The Court finds that documents numbered p0075-0077, p0080, p0082-0088, p0141-p0174, and p0258-0279 are relevant and responsive to Plaintiff's request No. 7.

C. Request No. 8: Any records of discipline imposed upon Defendants as a result of the present incident or any other act of violence, aggression, unnecessary force, or other improper actions (regardless of the outcome, ...


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