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Tilei v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 3, 2017



          PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff 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. ¶¶ 5-10.

         On 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.

         On 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.

         On 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.[1] 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.

         On 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 defendants.

         On 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. 94.


         A. Legal Standard

         A 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. 1991).

         A 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. Cal. 2010).

         B. Federal Rule of Evidence 404 “Screening Test”

         Plaintiff 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.

         Magistrate Judge James specifically and correctly identified the relevancy ...

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