United States District Court, N.D. California
Terry L. Haddix, Jr., Plaintiff, Pro se, Crescent City, CA.
For J. Frisk, Defendant: Alicia Anne Bower, LEAD ATTORNEY, CA Attorney General's Office, Civil Division, San Francisco, CA.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY; AND REQUIRING IN CAMERA PRODUCTION
EDWARD M. CHEN, United States District Judge.
This is a pro se prisoner's civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff claims that Defendant J. Frisk, a correctional sergeant, ordered a search of his cell and ordered him moved to a cell with a Lexan front in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaint against another member of the prison staff. Plaintiff now moves to compel further responses to 14 of his 16 interrogatories and 13 of his 18 requests for production of documents to Defendant. Defendant opposes the motion. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to compel will be denied and Defendant will be required to produce documents pertaining to two matters for in camera review.
Plaintiff propounded discovery requests on Defendant. Defendant asserted some objections but provided substantive responses to 15 of Plaintiff's 16 interrogatory requests and provided over a hundred pages of documents in response to the requests for production of documents.
The meet-and-confer efforts were minimal. On July 16 or 17, 2014, Plaintiff mailed a single meet-and-confer letter that complained generally about the responses. Defense counsel responded with a letter dated August 1, 2014, requesting that Plaintiff identify the particular discovery items at issue, but Plaintiff did not respond. Plaintiff either ignored defense counsel's letter and filed his motion to compel, or had already filed his motion to compel before the letter arrived. (The motion to compel has a signature date of July 31, 2014, and a proof of service stating that the document was mailed on August 5, 2014. The envelope containing the motion to compel was postmarked August 6, 2014.) Regardless of whether he filed the motion to compel before or after receipt of the meet-and-confer letter from defense counsel, Plaintiff never responded to defense counsel's meet-andconfer letter.
A party may obtain discovery " regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). " Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). " Relevancy, for the purposes of discovery, is defined broadly, although it is not without ultimate and necessary boundaries." Gonzales v. Google, Inc., 234 F.R.D. 674, 679-80 (N.D. Cal.2006).
A. Plaintiff Failed To Make A Good Faith Effort To Meet And Confer
The Court does not have enough time or resources to oversee all discovery, and therefore requires that the parties present to it only their very specific disagreements. And to promote the goal of addressing only very specific disagreements (rather than becoming an overseer of all discovery), the Court requires that the parties meet and confer to try to resolve their disagreements before seeking Court intervention. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1); N. D. Cal. Local Rule 37-1.
Plaintiff failed to make a good faith effort to meet and confer. Plaintiff sent one ineffectual meet-and-confer letter that complained generally about the responses, and did not respond to defense counsel's letter asking him to identify the particular discovery items at issue. Plaintiff now asks the court to excuse further meet-and-confer requirements. See Docket # 56 at 2-3. He argues that he did not have sufficient time to engage in the meet-and-confer process due to the deadline for him to oppose the pending summary judgment motion. Any time problems Plaintiff confronted were of his own making, as he had known since 2011 that Defendant claimed to have ordered the cell search as a training exercise, see Docket # 1 at 42 (inmate appeal), and had known since September 2012 that he could do discovery, see Docket # 4 at 8 (order of service).
Plaintiff argues in his reply that his meet-and-confer letter was proper because he was dissatisfied with Defendant's entire response. That is just the kind of broad-brush approach that is unacceptable. Defendant did provide substantive information in response to many of his requests and Plaintiff could have narrowed down or clarified his requests during the meet-and-confer process. Also, Plaintiff plainly wasn't dissatisfied with the entire response, as Defendant fully answered some discovery requests (e.g., Interrogatory Nos. 4 and 10) and Plaintiff makes no argument that those responses were deficient in his supplemental statement.
Had Plaintiff made a good faith effort to be more specific in his complaints about Defendant's responses, he could have resolved any problems with the relevance objections based on his failure to provide a time-frame for most of his discovery requests. Had Plaintiff made a good faith effort to meet and confer, he could have resolved objections based on language problems, such as the objection to his Interrogatory No. 1 and Request For Production of Documents No. 17,  inarticulately worded questions that present precisely the kind of discovery problem that the parties should work out during the meet-and-confer process before asking the Court to compel a further response. Had Plaintiff made a good faith effort to meet and confer, the parties might even have come to some agreement about confidential documents as to which Defendant claimed a privilege. The motion to compel will be denied because plaintiff failed to engage in a good faith effort to meet and confer to resolve the discovery dispute. There are other reasons to deny the motion to compel, and they are discussed next.
B. The Official Information Privilege Claimed Against Several Discovery Requests
1. Cell Search Information
Interrogatories Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and Requests for Production of Documents Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, asked for information and documents pertaining to cell search decisions.
Plaintiff's discovery requests related to the search were as follows:
Interrogatory No. 2: " State the duties of defendant J. Frisk, while acting as IGI sergeant at P.B.S.P. on June 13, 2011, insofar as they pertain to ordering, supervising, and being involved in any way with random cell searches which in no way pertain to IGI activities."
Request For Production Of Documents No. 2: " If those duties are set forth in any job description or other document, produce the document(s)."
Interrogatory No. 3: " State the procedure in effect on June 13, 2011 at P.B.S.P. for ordering, selecting, conducting, and supervising random cell searches. [¶ ] (A) If the procedure differs for ...