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Steven Williams v. Dial

November 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carolyn K. Delaney United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's May 4, 2011 motion to compel defendant Scovel to answer interrogatories, to which Scovel filed an opposition on May 26, 2011, after which plaintiff filed a reply on June 6, 2011. Also pending is plaintiff's July 22, 2011 motion for production of documents, to which defendants have not responded. Pursuant to the analysis below, the court will partially grant, and partially deny, both of these motions.

In this action, which proceeds against defendants Scovel and Dial on the Second Amended Complaint (SAC) filed on March 17, 2008, plaintiff alleges that Dial, a physician, and Scovel, a nurse, at High Desert State Prison, were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs and denied him adequate medical treatment for prostate cancer. Service was ordered on defendant Dial on August 9, 2011 (Dkt. No. 117), and he has not yet responded to the SAC (see Dkt. No.139), so the instant discovery dispute concerns only defendant Scovel.

I. Interrogatories

Plaintiff by his motion avers that defendant Scovel's responses to his First

Request for Interrogatories (Dkt. No. 109, Attachment 1 ("Responses")) are deficient and seeks to compel supplemental responses to some or all of them. Plaintiff propounded 25 interrogatories in this request, and because it is not clear from his motion whether plaintiff is satisfied with Scovel's responses to any of them, the court will address all of them here.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a responding party is obligated to respond to interrogatories to the fullest extent possible, Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(3), and any objections must be stated with specificity, Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(4). The responding party shall use common sense and reason. E.g., Collins v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 06-2466-CM-DJW, 2008 WL 1924935, *8 (D. Kan. Apr.30, 2008). A responding party is not generally required to conduct extensive research in order to answer an interrogatory, but a reasonable effort to respond must be made. L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, No. S-06-2042 LKK GGH, 2007 WL 2781132, *2 (E.D.Cal. Sep. 21, 2007). Further, the responding party has a duty to supplement any responses if the information sought is later obtained or the response provided needs correction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(e)(1)(A).

In his opposition, defendant Scovel argues that, as to Interrogatory Nos. 1-3, 5-13, and 17-23, plaintiff's motion should be denied "because he failed to give notice to Defendants, or the Court, as to how Defendants' responses are deficient." (Dkt. No. 110 ("Opp.") at 2.)

Defendant has a point. See Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 3.1345(c) (party moving to compel discovery responses must include reasons why further answers should be ordered: legal or factual arguments why the answers given were incomplete or non-responsive, or the objections invalid). As to Interrogatory Nos. 3, 7, 8, 9, and 10, plaintiff complains that defendant's responses are "laced with ambiguity" (Dkt. No. 109 ("Mtn.") at 2). He also asserts that "all his questions are posed to show that plaintiff was in great need of pain relief." (Id.) Plaintiff offers no further argument as to why these responses, or any others specified by defendant above, are inadequate under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Having carefully reviewed defendant's responses to these interrogatories, the court concludes that defendant made reasonable attempts to respond to the questions posed. For example, in Interrogatory No. 20, plaintiff asks: "Does a prescription from outside the institution count." While objecting that this request is nonsensical, vague and ambiguous as to time and scope and as to "count," defendant Scovel responds that "prescriptions from non-CDCR doctors are considered recommendations and physicians at CTC must re-write prescriptions from outside doctors." (Responses at 7.) Other responses to these interrogatories make similar objections but also provide brief but informative answers. Thus, the court will deny plaintiff's motion as to these interrogatories.

Plaintiff also argues, in more detail, that defendant's responses to the following interrogatories are deficient:

Interrogatory No. 4: "In your professional perspective was C.T.C. efficient in it's care of Patient Plaintiff at his admittance."

Response to Interrogatory No. 4: "Defendant objects to this request on the grounds that it is nonsensical, vague and ambiguous as to time and scope and as to "professional perspective," "efficient," "care," and "admittance," and inappropriately seeks an expert opinion. For these reasons, Defendant cannot answer this interrogatory."

(Responses at 2.) Plaintiff argues that defendant "must answer [this request] with specificity, which goes to understanding the plaintiff's condition at the time specific. . . . As to (4), defendant [must?] answer, or be declared not an expert, or professional in his respective position." (Mtn. at 3.) Defendant Scovel responds that "he is neither an expert witness nor a doctor, so he cannot give an expert opinion. Further, Plaintiff does not explain what he means regarding C.T.C.'s care being efficient. Because of this ambiguity, Defendant Scovel can only speculate as to what Plaintiff means, which he is not required to do [] under the rules of discovery." (Opp. at 3.) The court will sustain defendant's objection as to vagueness and ambiguity, and will deny plaintiff's motion as to Interrogatory No. 4.*fn1

Interrogatory No. 14: "In your Professional/Perspective absent any arrogance, is it smart to refuse pain medication ...

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