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Morris v. Sutton

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 9, 2019

JENNIFER MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN SUTTON, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AN EXTENSION OF NON-EXPERT DISCOVERY DOC. NO. 33)

         I. Introduction

         This lawsuit is about an inmate, Jason Morris, who was murdered by his cellmate, Michael Beardsley, while incarcerated at California's Wasco State Prison, where Defendant John Sutton (“Defendant”) was the warden. Jason's wife, Plaintiff Jennifer Morris (“Plaintiff), filed this lawsuit against Defendant in November 2017, alleging that Sutton negligently failed to protect Jason from being murdered. After non-expert discovery closed on March 29, 2019, Plaintiff moved to reopen non-expert discovery on April 10, 2019. Plaintiffs motion to reopen non-expert discovery was denied by the Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff then moved the Court for reconsideration of the Magistrate Judge's denial. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration.

         II. Background

         Plaintiffs original complaint named the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) as a defendant, in addition to Defendant Sutton. The Office of the Attorney General of California (“Attorney General”) appeared as the attorney for both then-defendant CDCR and Defendant Sutton. CDCR then moved to dismiss Plaintiffs claims against CDCR, and the Court granted that motion on March 8, 2018. See Doc. No. 11. Consequently, CDCR was terminated as a party from this lawsuit.

         On August 15, 2018, the Court issued a scheduling order. See Doc. 23. The scheduling order imposed the following deadlines and dates:

• January 14, 2018, for lodging motions for leave to amend the pleadings;
• March 29, 2019, for completion of non-expert discovery;
• June 28, 2019, for lodging dispositive motions;
• November 5, 2019, for the start of trial.

         After the Court issued the scheduling order, Plaintiffs attorney, Mark Coleman, and his staff failed to “effectively” calendar the non-expert discovery deadline and “tickler” reminders of the deadline, contrary to their normal protocol. Doc. No. 28 at 9. Their failure was partly due to Coleman and his staff dealing with the recent termination of an administrative employee, which in turn caused Coleman and his staff to be “over-extended.” Id at 2.

         On September 28, 2018, Defendant served Plaintiff with initial disclosures. Defendant's initial disclosures identified the names and involvement of the following three prison officers at Wasco State Prison: (1) D. Standiford, the correctional sergeant who approved the bed-move request that placed Beardsley in the cell with Jason; (2) A. Ball, the correctional sergeant who reviewed the bed-move request that placed Beardsley in the cell with Jason; and (3) D. Silva Escobar, the correctional officer who requested the bed-move that placed Beardsley in the cell with Jason. See Doc. No. 31.

         During “a large part of the month of December [2018] and into January 2019, ” Plaintiffs attorney was out of his office due to a medical procedure that he underwent on December 5, 2018. Doc. No. 28. In his declaration, Plaintiffs attorney did not tell the Court when he first learned that he would undergo the medical procedure and be out of the office for over a month. When Plaintiffs attorney returned to his office in January 2019, he was “inundated by matters which needed [his] immediate attention.” Id According to Plaintiffs attorney, these matters were “urgent” criminal matters. Id.

         On February 15, 2019, Plaintiff served Defendant with interrogatories and document production requests. On February 28, 2019, Plaintiff noticed the depositions of Defendant and the person-most-knowledgeable (“PMK”) for CDCR, which Plaintiff scheduled for March 21, 2019. Plaintiff served Defendant's attorney with notices of the two depositions, but Plaintiff did not serve CDCR - which at that time was not a party - with a subpoena for the PMK deposition. Plaintiffs attorney declared that CDCR was not served with a subpoena because the assistant of Plaintiffs attorney assumed that Defendant's attorney, the Attorney General, would also be representing CDCR for the PMK deposition. Plaintiffs attorney admitted that it was an error to not serve CDCR with a subpoena. Id at 10.

         On March 7, 2019, Beardsley's criminal trial for the murder of Jason concluded.

         On March 15, 2019, the Attorney General informed Plaintiffs attorney that the CDCR had not been served with a subpoena and, for that reason, the CDCR would not appear at the scheduled PMK deposition. Plaintiffs attorney declared that because he did not realize his error of not serving the CDCR with a subpoena until March 15, 2019, “there was not sufficient time to re-notice the deposition of the PMK . . . prior to the discovery cut-off of March 29, 2019.” Id On March 19, 2019, Plaintiff received Defendant's interrogatory responses. The interrogatory responses provided the names of the three prison officers responsible for transferring Beardsley into Morris's prison cell - namely, D. Standiford, A. Ball, and D. Silva-Escobar.

         On March 20, 2019, Plaintiff scheduled the depositions of the three prison officers for March 28, 2019, after Plaintiff “arranged with the Wasco Litigation Coordinator to accept service of the subpoenas” for the officers. Id at 10-11. Also on March 20, 2019, Plaintiff served the prison's litigation coordinator with subpoenas for the three officers' depositions, which were scheduled to be conducted in Fresno, California. Plaintiff served Defendant with notices of the three officers' depositions.

         On March 21, 2019, according to Plaintiffs attorney, “counsel for Defendant Sutton indicated that he believed his client would agree to allow the deposition of the PMK of the CDCR to be re-noticed and proceed despite the discovery cut-off of March 29, 2019.” Id at 11.

         On March 26, 2019, the Attorney General informed Plaintiff that it had been retained to represent the three prison officers. The Attorney General then canceled the officers' scheduled depositions because, according to the Attorney General, there were procedural problems with the deposition subpoenas. Specifically, the subpoenas were not accompanied by witness fees, there was insufficient time between when the subpoenas had been served and when the depositions were scheduled to be conducted, and the distance between the depositions' scheduled location - Fresno, California - and residences and places of employment of the three prison officers - Bakersfield, California - was greater than 100 miles.

         On March 30, 2019, the non-expert discovery deadline passed.

         On April 1, 2019, Plaintiff sent a discovery meet-and-confer letter to Defendant in an attempt to informally resolve the outstanding discovery issues. Specifically, Plaintiff requested that the ...


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