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Avila v. Cate

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 6, 2014

MATTHEW CATE, et al., Defendants.


SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background

Plaintiff Perry Robert Avila, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 on May 26, 2009. This action is proceeding against Defendants Meadors, Sullivan, Jones, Gonzalez, and Peterson ("Defendants") for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Docs. 1, 8.) Plaintiff's claim arises out of allegedly race-based lock-downs in 2007 at California Correctional Institution ("CCI") in Tehachapi, California.

The discovery phase of this litigation concluded on January 3, 2011, with the exception of the four document production requests which have been the subject of protracted proceedings. (Docs. 16, 25.) Third parties California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and CCI were served with subpoenas duces tecum commanding the production of documents responsive to the four document requests. (Docs. 38, 39, 40.) CDCR and CCI's response to the subpoenas prompted Plaintiff to file a motion to compel, which the Court granted on February 1, 2013. (Docs. 51, 57.) In that order, the Court also required CDCR and CCI to show cause why they should not be held in contempt. (Doc. 57.)

CDCR and CCI then filed a motion requesting reconsideration of the order by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill, who denied the motion with prejudice on June 6, 2013. (Docs. 58, 62.)

On July 5, 2013, CDCR and CCI filed a response to the order to show cause and a motion to modify the subpoenas. (Doc. 63.) After obtaining two extensions of time, Plaintiff filed a response on November 8, 2013, and the matter has been submitted upon the record without oral argument. Local Rule 230( l ). (Doc. 79.)

For the following reasons, the Court elects to discharge the order to show cause, deny the motion to modify the subpoenas as untimely, and require production of the disputed documents to the Court for in camera review. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c)(3)(A), (e); Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). The Court will then determine whether the documents should be subject to a protective order to ensure that the safety and security of staff and inmates are not compromised through the disclosure of confidential information. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c).

II. Order to Show Cause re Contempt[1]

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(a)(1)(D), a subpoena commanding the production of documents requires the responding party to permit inspection or copying of the materials. Following service of a subpoena duces tecum, the responding party may serve objections "before the earlier of the time specified for compliance or 14 days after the subpoena is served, " and if an objection is made, the serving party may move for an order compelling production or inspection. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c)(2)(B). The responding party may be held in contempt for failing to obey the subpoena without adequate excuse. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(e); Pennwalt Corp. v. Durand-Wayland, 708 F.2d 492, 494 (9th Cir. 1983).

Sanctions for civil contempt may be imposed to coerce obedience to a court order or to compensate a party for injuries resulting from the contemptuous behavior, or both.[2] General Signal Corp. v. Donallco, Inc., 787 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1986) (quotations marks and citations marks omitted). While "there is no good faith exception" to compliance with a court order, In re Dual-Deck Video Cassette Recorder Antitrust Litig., 10 F.3d 693, 695 (9th Cir. 1993), the entities' motivation and the steps they took to comply are nevertheless relevant in contempt proceedings, see id.

In this instance, the Court elects to discharge the order to show cause rather than to initiate contempt proceedings. CDCR and CCI's objections to the subpoenas were untimely and the Court previously determined that their untimely objections were waived, but CDCR and CCI did nonetheless serve objections to the subpoenas and they did undertake to respond to the subpoenas.[3] Further, although their response to the subpoenas fell sufficiently short to entitle Plaintiff to an order compelling production, the missteps in responding are at least partially, if not almost fully, attributable to the unique and challenging concerns which arise in the context of prison litigation.

It has long been recognized that safeguarding institutional security is a central objective of prison administration, and maintaining institutional safety and security presents many challenges. E.g., Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545-46, 99 S.Ct. 1861 (1979); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 844-45, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994); see also Griffin v. Gomez, Nos. 09-16744, 11-15373, 2014 WL 292528, at *9-10 (9th Cir. Jan. 28, 2014) (discussing the challenges faced by prison administrators in attempting to ensure institutional safety and security in an environment of extreme violence). The Court is neither ignorant of nor insensitive to these challenges; they may not be used as a pretense by prison officials to refuse to engage in discovery but neither will the Court turn a blind eye to their existence. The disclosure of confidential information, depending on its nature, may result in bodily injury or death to staff, other inmates, and/or individuals outside of prison, or it may result in other breaches in security. See e.g., Griffin, 2014 WL 292528, at *4 (detailing murders carried out on the orders of an imprisoned gang leader). The Court must consider the need to balance Plaintiff's entitlement to discoverable information with countervailing safety and security concerns.

Based on the aforementioned considerations, the Court finds that while CDCR and CCI's response to the subpoenas fell short of what was required of them, given the circumstances unique to this case, it was not sufficiently ...

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