United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER RE RELIEF FROM MAGISTRATE JUDGE DISCOVERY ORDER
RE: DKT. NO. 92
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge
Punaofo Tsugito Tilei is incarcerated at Salinas Valley State
Prison (“SVSP”), a California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitations (“CDCR”)
facility. Dkt. 38 at 2. Plaintiff's suit arises from the
“unwarranted and cruel assaults and sexual
abuses” six defendants (employees of CDCR, the
“employee defendants”) allegedly committed from
September 2011 through December 2011 in retaliation for
plaintiff protesting CDCR's failure to provide adequate
medical care. Id. at 2. At the time the alleged
incidents took place, four of the employee defendants were
correctional officers at SVSP (the “officer
defendants”) and the other two were nurses at SVSP (the
“nurse defendants”). Id. ¶¶
August 14, 2017, the court referred all discovery matters in
this case to Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James. Dkt. 77. On
August 22, 2017, the parties filed a joint letter brief
seeking resolution of a discovery impasse. Dkt. 80. From each
defendant, plaintiff sought personnel files which he
understood to include the following six categories of
documents relating to (1) disciplinary records; (2) training
records; (3) incident reports; (4) performance reviews; (5)
workplace conduct; and (6) lawsuits, complaints, or
grievances made against the defendant. Dkt. 80 at 1.
Defendants opposed these requests, claiming that they were
overbroad, burdensome, and irrelevant. Id. at 3.
Defendants specifically argued that the training records
request was irrelevant because plaintiff had not brought a
“failure-to-train” claim. Id. at 3.
Defendants also claimed that the documents were protected by
the “official information privilege” because they
contained personal and sensitive information. Id. at
7-8. Defendants, however, did not specifically invoke the
privilege. See id. at 4-5.
August 31, 2017, Magistrate Judge James heard oral arguments
on these issues and ordered defendants to “produce, for
in camera review any and all documents relating to the
investigation of the Defendant Correctional Officers, or to
their discipline, for incidents similar to those alleged in
the Complaint.” Dkt. 83 at 1 (the “August 31
order”). On September 7, 2017, defendants lodged
documents for in camera review. Dkt. 85.
September 28, 2017, Magistrate Judge James issued an order
resolving which documents defendants were required to
produce. Dkt. 90. That order indicates that the Magistrate
Judge reviewed the lodged documents to determine whether they
described incidents sufficiently similar to plaintiff's
excessive force and inadequate medical care allegations.
See Dkt. 90 at 3. Magistrate Judge James ordered the
production of one set of documents that “pertain to
denials of treatment or the use of prescribed medical
equipment that are sufficiently similar to the incidents
alleged in the Amended Complaint.”
Id. Magistrate Judge James also held that
defendants need not reproduce one relevant file, Bates No.
00361-00390, because it had been previously produced.
Id. at 4. For all other files, Magistrate Judge
James held that “the situations and actions described .
. . are not sufficiently similar to those alleged in this
case to be found relevant.” Dkt. 90 at 4.
October 12, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion for relief from
both of the above- described discovery orders. Dkt. 92.
Plaintiff contends that Magistrate Judge James only ordered
defendants to produce documents that were both relevant under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 and admissible under
Federal Rule of Evidence 404. Plaintiff also challenges the
August 31 order because it did not require defendants to
lodge with the court relevant performance reviews nor did it
require defendants to lodge for review any
potentially relevant records relating to the two nurse
October 20, 2017, the court ordered defendants to respond to
plaintiff's motion no later than October 27, 2017. Dkt.
93. Defendants filed an opposition on October 27, 2017. Dkt.
district court may modify or set aside an order of a
magistrate judge on a non-dispositive matter only if it is
“clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). Under this
“deferential” standard, the district court may
not “substitute its judgment” for that of the
magistrate judge. United States v. Abonce-Barrera,
257 F.3d 959, 968 (9th Cir. 2001); Grimes v. City &
County of San Francisco, 951 F.2d 236, 241 (9th Cir.
finding of fact may be set aside as clearly erroneous only if
the court has “a definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.” Burdick v.
C.I.R., 979 F.2d 1369, 1370 (9th Cir. 1992). However,
the “magistrate's legal conclusions are reviewed de
novo to determine whether they are contrary to law.”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 268 F.R.D. 344, 348 (N.D.
Federal Rule of Evidence 404 “Screening
argues that Magistrate Judge James ordered defendants to
produce documents only if those documents were relevant under
Rule 26 and admissible under FRE 404. The court
disagrees. Magistrate Judge James applied the correct
relevancy test under Rule 26 and FRE 401 (defining
relevancy), and did not screen documents for admissibility
using FRE 404.
Judge James specifically and correctly identified the