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George H. Robinson v. D. Adams

January 14, 2011

GEORGE H. ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. ADAMS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. ObertoUNITED States Magistrate Judge

ORDER PARTIALLY GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL (Doc. 65)

Plaintiff George H. Robinson ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. -§ 1983. On July 15, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel. (Doc. #65.) Defendants filed a reply on November 5, 2010 and an amended reply on November 8, 2010. (Doc. #83-84.) Plaintiff filed a reply on November 29, 2010 and a supplemental reply on December 8, 2010. (Doc. #91-92.)

I. Background

Plaintiff claims that correctional officers used excessive force against him on three separate occasions. On January 22, 2007, Plaintiff alleges he was attacked by Defendants David and Miranda, and that Defendants Melo, Garcia, Mendoza, and Martinez failed to intervene. Plaintiff also alleges that he was pepper sprayed by Martinez while he was unconscious. On January 23, 2007, Plaintiff was interviewed about the incident and David allegedly pulled Plaintiff's ears and hit him during the interview. On February 11, 2007, Plaintiff alleges that Garcia held Plaintiff's arm while Miranda hit him in the back and the head with his fist and kicked him in the butt. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Adams and Ruiz knew the other correctional officers posed a threat to Plaintiff after the first incident and failed to take reasonable measures to protect Plaintiff by transferring him to another location.

On February 11, 2009, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint and determined that Plaintiff stated cognizable claims against Defendants David, Miranda, Melo, Garcia, Mendoza, Martinez, and Masiel for the use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and cognizable claims against Defendants Adams and Ruiz for failing to protect Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court also determined that Plaintiff stated state law claims for assault and battery against Defendants Martinez, David, Miranda, and Garcia, claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress against David, Miranda, Melo, Garcia, Mendoza, Martinez, and Masiel, and claims for negligence against Defendants David, Miranda, Melo, Garcia, Mendoza, Martinez, and Masiel.

II. Discussion

Plaintiff seeks to compel further responses to interrogatories propounded on Defendants Adams, Melo, and Garcia. Plaintiff also seeks to compel further responses to document production requests propounded on Defendants.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b), a party "may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." "For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b). Further:

[T]he court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed . . . if it determines that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive;

(ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or

(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(2)(C).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a), a party propounding discovery may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery if a party has failed to respond to a discovery request or provided evasive or incomplete responses to a discovery request.

A. Plaintiff Has Failed to Demonstrate That Defendants' Objections Are Untimely

Plaintiff argues that "Defendants all have failed to provide a timely response to the interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Their response and objections constitute a waiver." (Mot. to Compel 9, ECF No. 65.) However, Defendants correctly note that Plaintiff has failed to offer evidence regarding when his discovery requests were served on Defendants or when Defendants served their responses on Plaintiff.

In his reply, Plaintiff argues that he propounded the requests on September 21, 2009, and Defendants did not serve their responses within 45 days. However, Defendants indicated that they did not receive Plaintiff's discovery requests and the Court ordered Defendants to respond within 30 days on May 11, 2010. Plaintiff has not shown that Defendants failed to respond within 30 days of May 11, 2010. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate how or why Defendants' objections are untimely.

B. Defendant Adams' Responses to Plaintiff's Interrogatories

Plaintiff propounded a set of interrogatories and document production requests on Defendant Adams on September 21, 2009. After Adams failed to respond, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel. (Doc. #41.) Defendants claimed they did not receive the interrogatories and the Court ordered Defendants to respond to them on May 11, 2010. (Doc. #55.) Plaintiff propounded five additional interrogatories on March 7, 2010. Defendant Adams responded to the original interrogatories but did not respond to the five additional interrogatories. Plaintiff seeks an order compelling Defendant Adams to respond to the five additional interrogatories, identified as Interrogatories Nos. 16-20.

Plaintiff also seeks further responses to Interrogatories Nos. 2-5, 7 and 11.

1. Interrogatory No. 2

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 2 states:

State all "YOUR" procedures in effect from January 1, 2003 through the present, relating, pertaining, and/or referring to the handling of inmates housed in the Security Housing Units, (hereinafter "SHU"), at CORCORAN. If those procedures are set-forth in any policies, directives or other documents, produce any and all DOCUMENTS.

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague as to the terms "all your procedures" and "handling of inmates," is overly broad, overly burdensome, is inarticulate, lacks foundation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Plaintiff claims the interrogatory is relevant because the procedures that were in place will be relevant to the subject matter at trial. However, Plaintiff does not provide an adequate explanation as to how Defendant's answer would be relevant. Plaintiff claims that other inmates suffered similar injuries as Plaintiff and that Plaintiff may be able to establish "a habit and pattern which should have [put] Defendant Adams [on] notice of a risk of harm to all inmates at the hands of the officer defendants." (Pl.'s Mot. to Compel Further Discovery 2, ECF No. 65.) However, Plaintiff's interrogatory does not ask about previous incidents regarding the use of force committed by Defendants. It is unclear how information regarding the procedures in place related to the "handling" of inmates in the SHU will lead to the discovery of any admissible evidence. Procedures regarding the "handling" of inmates are an overly broad category of procedures that would cover topics as mundane as procedures that include the feeding of inmates, the clothing of inmates, use of the showers, access to outdoor exercise, and access to medical treatment. Plaintiff himself admits that "handling" should be construed to include "how you deal with inmates in every particular situation." (Mot. to Compel 2, ECF No. 65.) The majority of topics covered by the interrogatory are not clearly relevant to the subject matter of this action. Contrary to Plaintiff's arguments in his reply, it is not Defendants' burden to narrow the scope of Plaintiff's interrogatory to identify the procedures and policies that are relevant to this litigation.

Accordingly, the Court will narrow the scope of the interrogatory to ask only what policies or procedures were in place between January 2003 and the present regarding complaints from prisoners regarding the use of excessive force. The prison's policies and procedures regarding other aspects of everyday prison life in the SHU are not clearly relevant to Plaintiff's claims. Defendant will be ordered to provide a further response to the interrogatory by setting forth the policies and procedures that were in place between January 2003 and the present regarding complaints from prisoners relating to the use of excessive force.

2. Interrogatory No. 3

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 3 states:

State the names, titles and duties of all "OFFICERS" at CORCORAN who had a responsibility of the control and custody of each inmate housed in Facility 4A housing unit 2L, from January 1, 2007 through April 1, 2007. If those duties are set-forth in any job description or other document, produce any and all DOCUMENTS.

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague as to the terms "all your procedures" and "handling of inmates," is overly broad, overly burdensome, is inarticulate, lacks foundation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving these objections, Responding Party does not know the names of the Officers who were assigned to that facility during that time frame.

The Court is satisfied with Defendant Adams' response to Plaintiff's interrogatory. Plaintiff complains that "[i]t is hard to believe that there's no documents the correctional staff who worked in the said mentioned area during the period of time in questioned." (Mot. to Compl 3, ECF No. 65.) Defendant reiterated that he did not know the names of the officers assigned to Facility 4A unit 2L during the time period identified by Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence to suggest that Defendant Adams does in fact know who was working during that specific time frame or has access to any documentation or other sources that would answer Plaintiff's interrogatory. Accordingly, Defendant's response is sufficient. If Plaintiff can prove that Defendant Adams' response was untruthful, the Court may consider the issuance of sanctions. However, the Court will not compel any further response based on Plaintiff's argument that "it is hard to believe" that Defendant's response is truthful.

3. Interrogatory No. 4

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 4 states:

State the names title and duties of all "OFFICERS" at CORCORAN who had a responsibility of investigating and/or processing staff complaints and/or Inmate Appeals, from January 1, 2007 through January 1, 2008. If those duties are set-forth in any job description or other document, produce any and all "DOCUMENTS."

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague, is overly broad, overly burdensome, lacks foundation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving these objections, Responding Party does not know the names of the Officers who were assigned to either investigate staff complaints or inmate appeals. That duty is assigned to different staff depending on the situation, the staff member involved, the type of incident alleged, and the facility in which the alleged incident took place.

Plaintiff argues that this interrogatory is relevant because he filed staff complaints that were ignored and Defendant's response may help identify prison officials who may be liable for ignoring Plaintiff's staff complaints. Defendant argues that a response would be overly burdensome because "staff would have to identify each inmate housed at CSP-Corcoran for that year, then check every central file to determine which officer investigated the matter." (Notice of Errata Ex. A, at 5, ECF No. 84.) It is unclear why prison staff would have to undertake such arduous efforts. Plaintiff's interrogatory does not ask Defendant to research and identify the appeals reviewers who investigated certain inmates' appeals. Plaintiff's interrogatory simply requests a list of the names of all the prison staff members who investigated or processed staff complaints or inmate appeals from Corcoran from January 1, 2007 through January 1, 2008 and a description of each staff member's job duties. The Court will order Defendant to provide a further response to Plaintiff's interrogatory.

4. Interrogatory No. 5

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 5 states:

State any all procedures in effect from January 1, 2007 through the present, for "CDCR" and "CORCORAN" relating, pertaining and referring to staff complaints or complaints of staff misconduct. If thopse[sic] procedures are set-forth in any policy, directive or other document produce any and all "DOCUMENTS".

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague, is overly broad, overly burdensome, lacks foundation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Plaintiff argues that this interrogatory is relevant because "[a]n examination of the procedures and a comparison of the actions taken in plaintiff's allegations can either support his claim of deliberate indifference or lead to other relevant evidence to support claims or refute defenses." (Mot. to Compel 4, ECF No. 65.) Defendant did not provide any further argument.

The Court finds that Plaintiff's interrogatory may lead to the discovery of admissible evidence because Plaintiff is claiming that Defendants ignored a known threat to Plaintiff's safety. Plaintiff correctly argues that a comparison of the official policies and Defendants' actual response may reveal that Defendants failed to follow official protocol and therefore deliberately ignored a known threat to Plaintiff's safety. However, the Court also acknowledges that the interrogatory is not phrased clearly and may be overly broad. Accordingly, the Court will narrow the scope of Plaintiff's interrogatory to cover only the prison's official policies and procedures regarding the processing of complaints against prison staff for the alleged use of excessive force. Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate how complaints regarding other types of staff misconduct are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The Court will order Defendant to identify all policies and procedures in effect during the time period identified by Plaintiff that relate to the processing of such complaints.

5. Interrogatory No. 7

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 7 states:

What, if any, procedures were in effect in 2007 that articulate each step that must be taken following an allegation by an officer that he or she has been assaulted by an inmate? (7b) Are there any steps taken to insure that the officer and inmate no longer come in direct contact with each other? If there are any procedures that are set-forth in any policy, directive or any other documents, produce any and all "DOCUMENTS".

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague as to what type of assault, is overly broad, overly burdensome, lacks foundation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving these objections, the procedures are different depending on the type of assault.

Plaintiff argues that it is Defendant's contention that Plaintiff assaulted prison officials and was not assaulted by any prison officials. Plaintiff contends that the interrogatory is relevant to disprove Defendant's allegations and "the procedures regarding the steps to separate the victims from the attacker would be very much relevant and may lead to other relevant evidence." (Mot. to Compel.4-5, ECF No. 65.)

The Court finds that the interrogatory may lead to relevant evidence for use at trial to rebut Defendant's factual contentions. The prison's policies and procedures following an inmate assault may refute Defendant's contentions if Plaintiff can demonstrate that Defendant's post-assault behavior is not consistent with the prison's policies and procedures. Accordingly, Defendant Adams' response to Plaintiff's interrogatory is inadequate. The Court will order Adams to provide a further response that identifies the different "types" of assaults and the policies and procedures for responding to each type of assault.

6. Interrogatory No. 11

Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 11 states:

What are the purposes for an inmate placement on "property restriction" and/or management status? Produce any and all documents relating, pertaining and/or referring to "property restriction" and "management status" that were in effect in 2007 at CORCORAN.

Defendant Adams' response states:

Responding Party objects to this request on the grounds that it is vague, lacks foundation, calls for speculation, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving these objections, the reasons for placing an inmate of[sic] property restriction or management cell status are set forth in the Department Operations Manual which is available for inspection and copying pursuant to institutional policies and procedures.

Plaintiff has not adequately explained how this interrogatory is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Although Plaintiff alleged that he was placed on "management status," the Court explicitly found that "Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim based on the conditions of the management status cell is not viable" and "Plaintiff has not adequately linked anyone to the conditions he was subjected to while on management cell status, and fails to state a viable IIED claim arising from those conditions." (Order Requiring Pl. To Either File Am. Compl. Or Notify Court of Willingness to Proceed Only On Claims Found To Be Cognizable In This Order 4:20-21, 8:21-23, ECF No. 19.) This action is proceeding solely on Plaintiff's claims that Defendants used excessive force against him, or deliberately ignored threats of harm to Plaintiff. It is unclear how the prison's policies for placement of inmates on management status are relevant to Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force. The Court will not compel Defendant to provide any further response to Plaintiff's interrogatory.

7. Interrogatories No. 16-20

Plaintiff claims Defendant Adams did not respond to Interrogatories Nos. 16-20. Defendant contends that he responded to all interrogatory requests that were received by counsel, implying that Plaintiff did not send Interrogatories Nos. 16-20 to Defendant.

According to the arguments in Plaintiff's motion to compel and the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's motion to compel, Plaintiff propounded the first set of interrogatories on Defendant Adams on September 21, 2009. Plaintiff amended the interrogatories on March 7, 2010 by adding five additional interrogatories. The amended interrogatories which are attached to Plaintiff's motion to compel are not labeled as "amended." There is no indication that the second set of interrogatories is any different from the first set of interrogatories until the last page, which states "THE FOLLOWING INTERROGATORIES WERE NOT PART OF THE ORIGINAL." (Mot. to Compel, Ex. A, at 5, ECF No. 65.) Since it was not clear that the second set of interrogatories contained any new or different requests than the first set, Defendant may not have realized that Plaintiff propounded an additional five interrogatories.

The Court will not sanction Defendant for failing to respond to Interrogatories 16-20. However, since the interrogatories were timely, the Court will order Defendant to provide responses to these interrogatories ...


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