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Kevin E. Fields v. E. Banuelos

July 13, 2012

KEVIN E. FIELDS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
E. BANUELOS,
DEFENDANT.



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

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL, REQUIRING DEFENDANTS TO SERVE SUPPLEMENTAL RESPONSES TO ROGS WITHIN THIRTY DAYS, AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REASONABLE EXPENSES (Doc. 40)

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Kevin E. Fields, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action for damages is proceeding against Defendant Banuelos for retaliation, in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiff's claim arises from an incident on June 16, 2006, in which Defendant confiscated his Kool-Aid and then wrote him up for possessing pruno, allegedly in retaliation for his litigation activities and for complaining about the Kool-Aid confiscation.

On December 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed a timely motion to compel and for reasonable expenses incurred in bringing the motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. Defendant filed an opposition on December 19, 2011, and the motion has been submitted. Local Rule 230(l).

II. Legal Standard

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and he is a state prisoner challenging his conditions of confinement. As a result, the parties were relieved of some of the requirements which would otherwise apply, including initial disclosure and the need to meet and confer in good faith prior to involving the Court in a discovery dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c); Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1); Local Rules 240, 251; Doc. 23, Discovery and Scheduling Order, ¶5.

Further, where otherwise discoverable information would pose a threat to the safety and security of the prison or infringe upon a protected privacy interest, a need may arise for the Court to balance interests in determining whether disclosure should occur. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c); Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 35 n.21, 104 S.Ct. 2199 (1984) (privacy rights or interests implicit in broad purpose and language of Rule 26(c)); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States Dist. Court for the Dist. of Montana, 408 F.3d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 2005) (discussing assertion of privilege); Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 616 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (recognizing a constitutionally-based right of privacy that can be raised in discovery); see also Garcia v. Clark, No. 1:10-CV-00447-LJO-DLB PC, 2012 WL 1232315, at *6 n.5 (E.D.Cal. Apr. 12, 2012) (noting inmate's entitlement to inspect discoverable information may be accommodated in ways which mitigate institutional safety concerns); Robinson v. Adams, No. 1:08-cv-01380-AWI-BAM PC, 2012 WL 912746, at *2-3 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 16, 2012) (issuing protective order regarding documents containing information which implicated the safety and security of the prison); Orr v. Hernandez, No. CV-08-0472-JLQ, 2012 WL 761355, at *1-2 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 7, 2012) (addressing requests for protective order and for redaction of information asserted to risk jeopardizing safety and security of inmates or the institution if released); Womack v. Virga, No. CIV S-11-1030 MCE EFB P, 2011 WL 6703958, at *5-6 (E.D.Cal. Dec. 21, 2011) (requiring defendants to submit withheld documents for in camera review or move for a protective order).

However, regardless of Plaintiff's incarceration, this is a civil action to which the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply, and the discovery process is subject to the overriding limitation of good faith. Asea, Inc. v. Southern Pac. Transp. Co., 669 F.2d 1242, 1246 (9th Cir. 1981) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense, and for good cause, the Court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) (quotation marks omitted). Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id. (quotation marks omitted).

Generally, if the responding party objects to a discovery request, the party moving to compel bears the burden of demonstrating why the objections are not justified. E.g., Grabek v. Dickinson, No. CIV S-10-2892 GGH P, 2012 WL 113799, at *1 (E.D.Cal. Jan. 13, 2012); Womack, 2011 WL 6703958, at *3; Mitchell v. Felker, No. CV 08-119RAJ, 2010 WL 3835765, at *2 (E.D.Cal. Sep. 29, 2010); Ellis v. Cambra, No. 1:02-cv-05646-AWI-SMS PC, 2008 WL 860523, at *4 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 27, 2008). This requires the moving party to inform the Court which discovery requests are the subject of the motion to compel, and, for each disputed response, why the information sought is relevant and why the responding party's objections are not meritorious. Grabek, 2012 WL 113799, at *1; Womack, 2011 WL 6703958, at *3; Mitchell, 2010 WL 3835765, at *2; Ellis, 2008 WL 860523, at *4.

Nonetheless, the Court is vested with broad discretion to manage discovery, Hunt v. County of Orange, 672 F.3d 606, 616 (9th Cir. 2012); Surfvivor Media, Inc. v. Survivor Productions, 406 F.3d 625, 635 (9th Cir. 2005); Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 751 (9th Cir. 2002), and where the discovery request seeks information which, based on the record, is clearly within the scope of discovery and the objection lacks merit, the Court may elect to exercise its discretion to reach the merits of the dispute, the moving party's initial burden notwithstanding, e.g., Marti v. Baires, No. 1:08-cv-00653-AWI-SKO PC, 2012 WL 2029720, at *3 (E.D.Cal. Jun. 5, 2012); Williams v. Adams, No. 1:05-cv-00124-AWI-SMS PC, 2009 WL 1220311, at *1 (E.D.Cal. May 4, 2009).

III. Discussion

A. Interrogatories and Production of Document Requests, Set One

1. Legal Standards

a. Interrogatories

An interrogatory may relate to any matter that may be inquired into under Rule 26(b), and an interrogatory is not objectionable merely because it asks for an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a)(2) (quotation marks omitted). Parties are obligated to respond to interrogatories to the fullest extent possible under oath, Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(3), and any objections must be stated with specificity, Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(4); Davis v. Fendler, 650 F.2d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 1981). 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).

b. Request for the Production of Documents

A party may serve on any other party a request within the scope of Rule 26(b) to produce and permit the requesting party or its representative to inspect, copy, test, or sample the following items in the responding party's possession, custody or control: any designated documents or tangible things (POD). Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a)(1) (quotation marks omitted). "Property is deemed within a party's 'possession, custody, or control' if the party has actual possession, custody, or control thereof or the legal right to obtain the property on demand." Allen v. Woodford, No. CV-F-05-1104 OWW LJO, 2007 WL 309945, *2 (E.D.Cal. Jan. 30, 2007) (citing In re Bankers Trust Co., 61 F.3d 465, 469 (6th Cir. 1995)); accord Bovarie v. Schwarzenegger, No. 08cv1661 LAB (NLS), 2011 WL 719206, at *4 (S.D.Cal. Feb. 22, 2011); Evans v. Tilton, No. 1:07CV01814 DLB PC, 2010 WL 1136216, at *1 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 19, 2010).

In responding to discovery requests, a reasonable inquiry must be made, and if no responsive documents or tangible things exist, Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1), the responding party should so state with sufficient specificity to allow the Court to determine whether the party made a reasonable inquiry and exercised due diligence, Uribe v. McKesson, No. 08cv1285 DMS (NLS), 2010 WL 892093, at *2-3 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 9, 2010). If responsive documents do exist but the responding party claims lack of possession, control, or custody, the party must so state with sufficient specificity to allow the Court (1) to conclude that the responses were made after a case-specific evaluation and (2) to evaluate the merit of that response. Ochotorena v. Adams, No. 1:05-cv-01525-LJO-DLB (PC), 2010 WL 1035774, at *3-4 (E.D.Cal. Mar. 19, 2010). Boilerplate objections do not suffice. Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(B), (C); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 408 F.3d at 1149.

2. ROGs 1-3, Set One

ROG 1: "If you[r] response to request for admission No. 1, served concurrently with these interrogatories, is anything other than an unqualified admission, please state all facts, including the names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses, that you claim support your contention that you didn't violate my rights under the First Amendment, on June 16, 2006."

ROG 2: "If your response to request for admission No. 2, served concurrently with these interrogatories, is anything other than an unqualified admission, please state all facts, including the names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses, that you claim support your contention that you didn't retaliate against me, on June 16, 2006."

ROG 3: "If your response to Request for Admission No. 3, served concurrently with these interrogatories, is anything other than an unqualified admission, please state all facts, including the names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses, that you claim support your contention that you didn't violate my constitutional rights, on June 16, 2006."

Response: Defendant's corresponding RFA responses were not unqualified admissions; and he objected to the ROGs as compound, and as seeking confidential contact information for prison staff which would jeopardize the safety and security of the institution and which is ...


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