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Maher Darraj; Nader Darraj v. County of San Diego; Jason Titus; and Jason

November 28, 2012

MAHER DARRAJ; NADER DARRAJ,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; JASON TITUS; AND JASON PHILPOT; STEPHEN WALTON; AND DOES 1-25,, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Bernard G. Skomal U.S. Magistrate Judge United States District Court

ORDER ON DISCOVERY DISPUTE REGARDING PLAINTIFFS' REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION OF PEACE OFFICER PERSONNEL INTERNAL AFFAIRS RECORDS [Doc. Nos. 20, 21]

On November 7, 2012, the parties each filed a Memorandum of Points and Authorities in support of their positions with respect to a discovery dispute stemming from Plaintiffs' request for production of peace officer personnel and internal affairs records. (Doc. Nos. 20, 21.) Defendants object to the production of this material asserting that it is irrelevant, overly broad and cannot lead to admissible evidence; as well as that the records sought are protected by the official information privilege. (Doc. No. 20 at 3-6.)

Dispute Background

Plaintiffs brought this case against Defendants alleging causes of action for: 1) unlawful seizure and excessive force under 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Doc. No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiffs contend that Defendants detained them without reasonable suspicion, arrested them without probable cause and and subjected them to excessive force. The parties' discovery dispute concerns Plaintiffs' requests for production of peace office personnel and internal affairs records. In response to these requests, Defendants assert that: 1) records are irrelevant and cannot lead to admissible evidence, and 2) material is subject to the official information privilege.*fn1 (Doc. No. 20 at 3-6.)

In compliance with the procedures set forth in Hampton v. City of San Diego, 147 F.R.D. 227 (S.D. Cal. 1993), Defendants filed a declaration from the agency official regarding the official information privilege and also lodged a privilege log with the Court. Defendants also lodged 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 for documents Nos. 1, 2, and 3 on the grounds that they seek irrelevant information. (Doc. No. 20 at 3; see also Doc. No. 21 at Ex. 1.)

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. 1: Copies of all reports, interviews, witness statements (tape recorded or otherwise), diagrams, photographs, investigative summaries or any other document or tape recording generated as a result of any investigation (internal affairs or otherwise) by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and/or the County of San Diego into the incident which is the subject of this lawsuit, to wit, (the arrest of plaintiffs and others at plaintiffs' apartment complex at 463 N. 1st Street, El Cajon, CA. 92021 on July 28, 2010).

The internal documents concerning the incident from which this lawsuit arises are clearly relevant and within the scope of discovery. Defendants state, however, that because Plaintiffs did not file an internal affairs complaint against the deputy Defendants, there are no records or documents reflecting Plaintiffs' complaint of excessive force, or any findings and conclusions about the event.

Because Defendants state that there are no records pertaining to the incident at issue, the Court cannot compel disclosure of documents that do not exist. Yet, to the extent that Defendants accidentally or erroneously omitted any documents concerning an investigation into the incident at issue from the privilege log and documents do in fact exist, those documents are relevant and should be produced. This includes copies of all reports, interviews, witness statements, and investigative summaries into the arrest of Plaintiffs and others at Plaintiffs' apartment complex on July 28, 2010.

B. Request No. 2: All performance evaluations of Defendants Jason Titus, Jason Philpot, and Stephen Walton for the years 2005 - present.

The Court finds Plaintiffs' request for personnel information and performance evaluations of Defendants seeks some relevant information but is overbroad. Defendants are largely evaluated in areas which bear no relationship to the claims in this case. Therefore, the Court finds that only those portions of performance evaluations that related to judgment, law enforcement, law enforcement and corrections procedures, enforcement tactics, and knowledge of policies or procedures are relevant to Plaintiffs' claims. These categories of documents may lead to evidence admissible pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) or 608(b). Other courts have held that personnel records and performance evaluations of officers are relevant in excessive force cases. See Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 615 (N.D. Cal. ...


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