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Goolsby v. Gentry

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 22, 2015

THOMAS GOOLSBY, Plaintiff,
v.
GENTRY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL (Document 87) ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT REPLY (Document 105)

DENNIS L. BECK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Thomas Goolsby ("Plaintiff") is a California state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants Gentry, Noyce, Eubanks, Tyree, Medrano, Holman, Holland and Steadman.[1]

The discovery cut-off is April 16, 2015. Dispositive motions must be filed by May 15, 2015.

On October 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to compel Defendants Holland, Noyce, Eubanks, Steadman and Tyree to provide further responses to Requests for Production of Documents, Interrogatories and Requests for Admissions. After receiving extensions of time, Defendants opposed the motion on February 25, 2015. Plaintiff filed his reply on March 12, 2015, and the motion is suitable for decision. Local Rule 230(1).

I. ALLEGATIONS IN FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff is currently housed at Pelican Bay State Prison. The events at issue occurred while he was incarcerated at the California Correctional Institution ("CCI") in Tehachapi, California.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Gentry, Noyce, Eubanks, Tyree and Medrano initiated a validation packet against him on the orders of Defendants Holland and Steadmon. Plaintiff alleges that this was done in retaliation for filing appeals and lawsuits against them.

He explains that in June 2010, he was placed in Ad-Seg pending conclusion of an investigation into his gang activities. On August 27, 2010, Defendant Noyce concluded the investigation and found insufficient evidence to validate Plaintiff as an associate of a prison gang. On September 10, 2010, he was released back into the general population.

In December 2010, Plaintiff met with Defendant Holman in preparation for his inmate classification hearing. Defendant Holman told Plaintiff that Defendant Holland "told me to tell you to drop your lawsuits on her or... else your [sic] going back to the hole permanently validated." ECF No. 15, at 6. Plaintiff did not reply and did not drop his lawsuits.

On February 11, 2011, he was placed in Ad-Seg pending validation as an associate of the Nazi Low Rider ("NLR") prison gang. Defendant Eubanks gave him his validation packet and Defendant Tyree signed his lock-up order. Plaintiff alleges that upon reviewing his packet, the documents in his validation packet were the same as those used by Defendant Noyce to find insufficient evidence six months prior.

On April 11, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Eubanks admitted that the only reason that Plaintiff was validated was because of his lawsuits and appeals. He alleges that his placement in segregated housing has made it more difficult to conduct legal work, prosecute litigation and access the law library.

II. RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

In granting Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, the Court first explained that Plaintiff could not state a claim based on his belief that his validation packet was a "sham" because false charges, alone, do not support a claim under section 1983. The Court also rejected Plaintiff's claim that Defendants Noyce's August 2010 decision was "proof" that his validation was a sham.

In reviewing the specific evidence used to validate him, the Court found (1) the "filter list" constituted some evidence of gang validation; (2) Plaintiff's address book could be used in validating him; and (3) Plaintiff was given a reasonable opportunity to be heard by the critical decision-maker.

After finding that Defendants did not err in their use of the above evidence, the Court also noted that Defendants relied on additional items to validate Plaintiff, including identification of Plaintiff by another gang member, a note authored by Plaintiff, and a note indicating that Plaintiff was involved in a prior assault.

Therefore, the Court granted summary judgment because there were no genuine issues of material fact as to whether "some evidence" existed for Plaintiff's validation. The Court also found that the proper procedures were followed.

Based on the ruling on summary judgment, Plaintiff cannot, in his retaliation claim, question the reliability of the documents used to validate him, and discovery as to that issue will not be permitted. The issue remaining is whether there were any additional documents used in the second review, or some other explanation to support the different results.

III. MOTION TO COMPEL STANDARD

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged 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. However, the Court is vested with broad discretion to manage discovery and notwithstanding these procedures, Plaintiff is entitled to leniency as a pro se litigation. 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).

III. REQUESTS FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

A. LEGAL STANDARD

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. 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 responsive 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). As with previously discussed forms of discovery, 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.

B. DEFENDANT HOLLAND

Request Number 1 : Plaintiff Thomas Goolsby F-19778 requests a complete copy of his C-file from March 2006 up to March 2012.

Response: [2] Defendant did not produce any documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, the non-confidential portion is equally available to Plaintiff, the request does not relate to the retaliation claim, [3] and seeks confidential information. Defendants provided a privilege log.

Ruling: Plaintiff is entitled to review his C-file pursuant to institutional policy and request copies of non-confidential documents. In his motion, Plaintiff contends that he "request[ed] these documents from his counselor, " but the request was denied. ECF No. 87, at 4. Plaintiff therefore argues that he does not have a method to obtain these documents.

However, as Defendants point out, Plaintiff's request was denied because he asked for his entire C-file, which would have comprised hundreds of pages. In his request, Plaintiff states that he "just need[s] it documented that this amount of documents is not possible through" a request to his counselor. ECF No. 87, at 189. Plaintiff cannot avoid the fact that he is entitled to review his C-file by submitting an improper request. In other words, Plaintiff cannot circumvent prison policies and now demand the documents in discovery. Plaintiff also admits that he has acquired numerous C-file documents through other prior lawsuits, some of which were filed in this action. The fact that he does not have current access to the documents he already has, however, does not necessarily negate his ability to review his C-file again.

As to confidentiality, Defendants have submitted a privilege log and declaration to support their objection, arguing that the confidential documents contain names of informants, and that disclosure would endanger those inmates. Defendants also contend that redaction will not protect the inmates because facts and details could clue Plaintiff, or another inmate, into the identity of the informant. Bartelmie Decl., ¶¶ 6-7 (ECF No. 87, at 207). Although Plaintiff states that he simply wants the conclusions and assessments of the Institutional Gang Investigators ("IGI"), Defendants argue that even disclosure of conclusions and assessments will educate inmates in gang-investigation techniques and hamper future investigations.

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); see also Garcia v. Clark, 2012 WL 1232315, at *6 n.5 (E.D. Cal. 2012) (noting inmates entitlement to inspect discoverable information may be accommodated in ways which mitigate institutional safety concerns); Robinson v. Adams, 2012 WL 912746, at *2-3 (E.D. Cal. 2012) (issuing protective order regarding documents containing information which implicated the safety and security of the prison); Orr v. Hernandez, 2012 WL 761355, at *1-2 (E.D. Cal. 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, 2011 WL 6703958, at *5-6 (E.D. Cal. 2011) (requiring defendants to submit withheld documents for in camera review or move for a protective order).

The Court agrees that the information Plaintiff seeks is relevant to his retaliation claim, to the extent it may reveal differences between the two reviews. However, given the sensitive nature of the documents at issue, the Court will not order production at this time. Instead, the Court will order Defendants to produce the documents at issue for in camera review. Defendants must include a detailed log describing the documents and setting forth their argument as to why the documents should be withheld. Defendants must also indicate when the documents were added to Plaintiff's C-file.

Plaintiff's motion to compel is therefore GRANTED IN PART, as described above.

Request Number 2 : Plaintiff Thomas Goolsby F-19778 requests all electronic mail sent to Defendant Holland, or sent from Defendant Holland which contains, describes, mentions or talks about Plaintiff from January 2009 through March 2012.

Response: Defendants objected to the request as overbroad, and seeking documents that are confidential and/or subject to the attorney/client privilege. However, despite the objections, Defendants responded, "having made a diligent search, there are no all electronic mail sent to Defendant Holland, or sent from Defendant Holland, which contains, describes, mentions or talks about Plaintiff's gang validation, inmate appeals or lawsuits from January, 2009, through February 2011. Therefore, no documents will be produced." ECF No. 100, at 14-15.

Ruling: The Court need not rule on Defendants' objections because they nonetheless provided a substantive response. In his motion, Plaintiff does not state why he believes that (a) responsive documents exist; and (b) why Defendants are withholding them. In his reply, Plaintiff faults Defendants for restricting their search for emails relating to Plaintiff's gang validation, inmate appeals or lawsuits. He believes that Defendant Holland could possess an email stating that she "wanted to get'" Plaintiff or "retaliate" against him. ECF No. 102, at 3.

Plaintiff admits that it is "exceptionally rare" for a CCI prison official to write an email about an inmate. ECF No. 87, at 7. Nonetheless, he is correct that Defendants' restricted search may, theoretically, have left discoverable information undisclosed. As Plaintiff argues, emails suggesting a dislike for Plaintiff, or expressing a desire to retaliate against him, may be used to prove motive. Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2012).

Defendants also end the time period at February 2011. While the Court agrees that March 2012 is too long of a time period, the period should go until October 2011, when Plaintiff filed this action.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART. Defendants shall conduct a search for emails, for the time period January 2009 through October 2011, suggesting a dislike for Plaintiff, or a desire to retaliate against him, and supplement their response, within thirty (30) days.

Request Number 3: Plaintiff requests all CCI institutional memoranda created between January 2008 and July 2011 concerning prison gang policy or actions or investigation of prison gangs.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, objecting to the request as overbroad and vague, and seeking irrelevant information, documents equally available to Plaintiff, and confidential information.

Ruling: Plaintiff argues, and the Court agrees, that his request is not "so vague, ambiguous and unintelligible, " as Plaintiff specifies the documents he seeks: CCI memos relating to prison gang policy, actions or investigations. ECF No. 100, at 15.

As to relevance, Plaintiff argues that the memos are relevant to show that Defendants may have deviated from their own policies. Defendants, relying in part on the Court's ruling on summary judgment, suggest that this evidence is related to Plaintiff's due process claim. Defendants are correct that Plaintiff can no longer challenge the evidence used to validate him, but he is entitled to discover whether there are differences between the two reviews. The requested memos may offer proof of motive, and the Court finds that the requested information is relevant.

As to the scope of the request, Plaintiff argues that he limited the request to January 2008, when he arrived at CCI, and July 2011, when he was validated. However, the Court will sustain Defendants' objection in part, as memos issued after the February 2011 submission of his gang validation packet are not relevant.[4]

Finally, Defendants object on the basis of confidentiality, but they have not provided a privilege log. As a result, Defendants have not provided the Court with any specific information to permit a balancing of interests. The Court cannot simply accept Defendants' belief that the relevant documents are confidential and should not be produced.

Accordingly, the Court cannot determine whether Defendants' confidentiality objection should be sustained. Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART. Defendants must supplement their responses with a privilege log that describes responsive documents with specificity and explains the concerns related to disclosure. However, as noted above, Defendants must only include documents created between January 2008 and February 2011.

Request Number 4: Plaintiff requests a complete and whole copy of all confidential memorandum used to validate Plaintiff as an associate of any prison gang.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and seeks confidential information. Defendants provided a privilege log.

Ruling: In Plaintiff's motion, he clarifies that he was validated twice (NLR and AB prison gangs), and that the validations occurred a few months apart in 2011. Given this explanation, the request is not overbroad.

Next, Plaintiff argues that the documents are not confidential for various reasons.[5] As in Request Number 1, Defendants have submitted a privilege log and declaration to support their objection, arguing that the confidential documents contain names of informants, and that disclosure would endanger those inmates. Defendants also contend that redaction will not protect the inmates because facts and details could clue Plaintiff, or another inmate, into the identity of the informant. Bartelmie Decl., ¶¶ 6-7 (ECF No. 87, at 207). Although Plaintiff states that he simply wants the conclusions and assessments of the Institutional Gang Investigators ("IGI"), Defendants argue that even disclosure conclusions and assessments will educate inmates in gang-investigation techniques and hamper future investigations.

The Court has already discussed this issue in the ruling on Request Number 1, and the same analysis applies here. Although Defendants argue that Plaintiff already has copies of the Confidential Disclosure Information Forms (CDCR 1030), the forms, by their nature, do not disclose the specific information that Plaintiff is seeking.

Plaintiff's motion is therefore GRANTED IN PART, and Defendants are ordered to produce the documents at issue for in camera review.[6] Defendants must include a detailed log describing the documents and setting forth their argument as to why the documents should be withheld.

Request Number 5: Plaintiff requests a copy of all confidential memorandum filed in his C-File from March 2006 through March 2012.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and seeks confidential information. Defendants provided a privilege log.

Ruling: This request is similar to Request Numbers 1 and 4, and the Court will not repeat its analysis here. Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and Defendants are ordered to submit the documents for in camera review.

Request Number 6: Plaintiff requests a complete and whole copy of all written material alleged by Defendant to be evidence of gang activity, such as confiscated letters, notes, documents, pictures etc.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and seeks confidential information. Defendants provided a privilege log.

Ruling: This request is similar to Request Numbers 1 and 4, and the Court will not repeat its analysis here. Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and Defendants are ordered to submit the documents for in camera review.

Request Number 7: Plaintiff requests a copy of CCI's mission statement and housing directive in effect between January 2011 and March 2012.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the category of documents is not described with reasonable particularity, overbroad in time and scope and irrelevant. Defendants also contend that the request seeks confidential documents.

Ruling: In his motion, Plaintiff argues that he is seeking two documents- CCI's mission statement and housing directive- in effect during a fourteen month period.

While the request may not be overbroad, the Court finds that the documents are not relevant. Plaintiff argues that in January 2011, when he was housed on CCI's 4A General Population Yard, CCI announced a plan to convert the yard to a SHU. All inmates were to be transferred to other Level 4 prisons. Plaintiff states that he was put up for transfer to High Desert State Prison, and he believes that this is what triggered the timing of the retaliatory validation. He contends that this goes to motive, and argues that "if Defendants didn't act immediately they would lose their opportunity to retaliate." ECF No. 87, at 24.

The Court disagrees. Plaintiff alleges that he left CCI in March 2012, over a year after the announcement of changes to the 4A Yard. However, even if Plaintiff was put up for immediate transfer, the connection between his eventual transfer and Defendants' alleged retaliation is tenuous, at best. In other words, even assuming Defendants retaliated against him at that time, when he was retaliated against does not relate to why he was retaliated against.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to compel is DENIED.

Request Number 8: Plaintiff requests all documents that list and describe Defendant Holland's job duties and responsibilities as Warden of CCI.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and seeks confidential information. Defendants provided a privilege log.

Ruling: Setting aside whether the request is overbroad or seeks confidential information, the documents are not relevant. Plaintiff argues that the documents are extremely relevant because they will show what "duty of care" Defendant Holland owed to Plaintiff. ECF No. 87, at 26. Plaintiff also argues that when her job duties are compared to her actions, it will provide evidence of retaliation.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Holland ordered the retaliatory gang validation. Whatever "duty of care" she owed is not an issue. As to Plaintiff's comparison argument, Plaintiff does not need her job description to demonstrate that such actions would not be included in her job duties. It's common sense that a Warden's job duties would not include retaliation.

The requested documents are not relevant to Plaintiff's retaliation claim and his motion to compel is DENIED.

Request Number 9: Plaintiff requests a copy of all incident reports and rules violation reports that Defendant believes evidences gang activities by Plaintiff.

Response : Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and that the documents are not described with reasonable particularity. Defendants also object because the request seeks confidential information, and because the documents are equally available to Plaintiff.

Ruling: The Court rejects Defendants' objections that the request is overbroad and/or fails to describe the documents with reasonable particularity.

As to relevancy, Plaintiff argues that he needs the information to "discover what evidence Defendants are relying on" for his validation so he can attack it and show its unreliability. ECF No. 87, at 28. However, as Defendants point out, Plaintiff was not validated on the basis of any incident reports or rules violation reports. Moreover, Plaintiff is precluded from attacking the reliability of the documents used to validate him- his claim is now narrowed to comparing the two reviews.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to compel is DENIED.

Request Number 10: Plaintiff requests a copy of all log book entries concerning him, by any log book at CCI, from January 2010 through March 2012.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is compound, overbroad as to time and scope, and vague. Defendants also contend that the request is not relevant and seeks disclosure of confidential information.

Ruling: As to relevancy, Plaintiff contends that he needs the log entries because certain Defendants deny that some conversations took place. He believes that if he can show that he was at the location at the time of the conversation, it would support his claims. The Court therefore finds the entries relevant, but not all entries for the time period requested. Given that Plaintiff needs the log entries to support his claims of specific conversations, only log entries for those specific periods are relevant.

Defendants also contend that Plaintiff has access to the log books, though they did not object on this basis in their response. To support their claim, they cite a CDCR 114-A1 and CDCR 114-A attached to Plaintiff's motion to compel. Plaintiff argues, however, that he received these documents through discovery in another action, and that they do not pertain to the relevant time period. Indeed, it is the Court's understanding that inmates do not generally have access to log books.

Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion IN PART. Plaintiff SHALL provide Defendants with specific dates on which the conversations at issue occurred within ten (10) days of the date of service of this order, and Defendants SHALL provide a supplemental response to the request, as narrowed, within thirty (30) days.

Request Number 11: Plaintiff requests a copy of all 114-A's Ad-Seg Records created under his name and CDC #F19778 between January 2010 and March 2012, this includes 114-A, 114-A1, sign in logs, roster logs, all documents contained in Plaintiff's segregation file and stored.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, vague and seeks documents equally available to Plaintiff. Defendants also contend that the request is not relevant and seeks disclosure of confidential information.

Ruling: Similar to the log books requested in Number 10, Plaintiff contends that he needs the requested documents to corroborate his statements and identify key witnesses. The Court's findings as to Number 10 apply equally here. The Court does not find the request vague.

Plaintiff's motion is therefore GRANTED IN PART. Plaintiff SHALL provide Defendants with specific dates on which the conversations at issue occurred within ten (10) days of the date of service of this order, and Defendants SHALL provide a supplemental response to the request, as narrowed, within thirty (30) days.

Request Number 12: Plaintiff requests a copy of all CDC Form 119 and all other mail room records that contain Plaintiffs name and or CDC # at CCI from January 2008 through March 2012.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope, and vague. Defendants also contend that the request is not relevant and seeks disclosure of confidential information.

Ruling: In their opposition, Defendants indicate that even though the request seeks irrelevant information, they will comply by providing Plaintiff's (1) incoming legal mail log from April 1, 2008, through March 27, 2012; and (2) outgoing legal mail log from February 25, 2008, through March 26, 2012.

This response appears to be sufficient. In his motion to supplement his reply, Plaintiff states that he has received the mail logs.

Request Number 13: Plaintiff requests a copy of all audio recordings made of Plaintiff, or mentioning Plaintiff at CCI, between January 2008 and March 2012.

Response: Defendants did not produce documents, arguing that the request is overbroad as to time and scope and vague. Defendants also contend that the request is not relevant.

Ruling: Plaintiff argues that he needs these audio recordings because he thinks that Defendants, through the use of audio recordings, learned that Plaintiff was not an associate of the NLR. He also believes that Defendant Noyce relied on this type of evidence in ...


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