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Harris v. Kernan

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 10, 2019

S. KERNAN, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel. This action proceeds on plaintiff's Eighth Amendment medical claims against defendant Dr. Kuersten, Chief Medical Officer at California State Prison, Solano (“CSP-Solano”). Plaintiff's motion to compel further responses to interrogatories is before the court. Defendant filed an opposition, plaintiff did not file a reply. As set forth below, plaintiff's motion is denied.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         In screening the operative pleading, the undersigned found that plaintiff may be able to demonstrate that Dr. Kuersten was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs by allegedly interfering with numerous recommendations of specialists concerning the diagnosis and treatment of plaintiff's chronic GI symptoms, suffered over more than four years, which remain undiagnosed, by denying plaintiff's primary care physicians' requests based on recommendations by medical specialists, as well as by suggesting physical therapy for plaintiff's tendon of his right thumb where the orthopedic specialist stated that “further nonoperative treatment would not be effective.” (ECF No. 20 at 110.) See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1132 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (“A prisoner need not prove that he was completely denied medical care. . . . Rather, he can establish deliberate indifference by showing that officials intentionally interfered with his medical treatment.”) (citations omitted). (ECF No. 22 at 10-11.)

         II. Legal Standards Governing Discovery

         Under Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “a party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). Such “motion may be made if: . . . (iii) a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted under Rule 33; . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). An “evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). “District courts have ‘broad discretion to manage discovery and to control the course of litigation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16.'” Hunt v. Cnty. of Orange, 672 F.3d 606, 616 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Avila v. Willits Envtl. Remediation Trust, 633 F.3d 828, 833 (9th Cir. 2011)).

         Plaintiff bears the burden of informing the court (1) which discovery requests are the subject of his motion to compel, (2) which of the responses are disputed, (3) why he believes the response is deficient, (4) why defendants' objections are not justified, and (5) why the information he seeks through discovery is relevant to the prosecution of this action. McCoy v. Ramirez, 2016 WL 3196738 at *1 (E.D. Cal. 2016); Ellis v. Cambra, 2008 WL 860523, at *4 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (“Plaintiff must inform the court which discovery requests are the subject of his motion to compel, and, for each disputed response, inform the court why the information sought is relevant and why defendant's objections are not justified.”).

         The purpose of discovery is to “remove surprise from trial preparation so the parties can obtain evidence necessary to evaluate and resolve their dispute.” U.S. ex rel. O'Connell v. Chapman University, 245 F.R.D. 646, 648 (C.D. Cal. 2007) (quotation and citation omitted). Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure offers guidance on the scope of discovery permitted:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Rule 26(b)(1). “Relevance for purposes of discovery is defined very broadly.” Garneau v. City of Seattle, 147 F.3d 802, 812 (9th Cir. 1998). “The party seeking to compel discovery has the burden of establishing that its request satisfies the relevancy requirements of Rule 26(b)(1). Thereafter, the party opposing discovery has the burden of showing that the discovery should be prohibited, and the burden of clarifying, explaining or supporting its objections.” Bryant v. Ochoa, 2009 WL 1390794 at *1 (S.D. Cal. May 14, 2009) (internal citation omitted).

         With respect to interrogatories, a party may propound interrogatories related to any matter that may be inquired into under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a)(2). An interrogatory is not objectionable merely because it asks for an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact. Id. A party is obligated to respond to interrogatories to the fullest extent possible under oath. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). Any objections must be stated with specificity. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4); Davis v. Fendler, 650 F.2d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 1981). The responding party shall use common sense and reason. Collins v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2008 WL 1924935, *8 (D. Kan. Apr. 30, 2008). A responding party is not generally required to conduct extensive research in order to answer an interrogatory, but a reasonable effort to respond must be made. Gorrell v. Sneath, 292 F.R.D. 629, 632 (E.D. Cal. 2013); L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, 2007 WL 2781132, *2 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 21, 2007). Further, the responding party has a duty to supplement any responses if the information sought is later obtained or the response provided needs correction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e)(1)(A).

         A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to require answers to interrogatories. See 8A Wright, Miller & Marcus, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2176 at 311 and n.1 (Civil 2d ed. 1994).

         III. Interrogatories

         Interrogatory No. 1 inquires whether defendant “ever requested [plaintiff] be transferred out of CSP-Solano?” Without waiving objections, defendant stated that he does “not recall ever requesting a transfer for plaintiff as there was no medical reason to transfer him.” (ECF No. 70 at 5.) In addition, Dr. Kuersten noted that he was informed that plaintiff received an involuntary, non-adverse transfer to Folsom State Prison in 2016 which was initiated by custody staff. Plaintiff argues that defendant's objections are without merit and evasive, and that defendant has a duty to investigate, including requesting information from persons and entities under defendant's control. Plaintiff then describes how he was transferred at various times, and claims that his transfer in 2016 was made possible by Dr. Kohler lowering plaintiff's medical risk from high to medium on January 21, 2016. However, plaintiff's motion fails to identify a direct connection between Dr. Kuersten and the question asked. Even if Dr. Kuersten had inquired as to the actions of Dr. Kohler, it would not have identified a medical transfer order by Dr. Kuersten. Moreover, it does not appear that the answers plaintiff sought fit the call of the question: plaintiff appears to contend that because certain nonparty medical staff lowered plaintiff's medical risk status, it enabled his transfers to prisons which would not accept a high risk medical inmate. But, as the court recently noted, “[p]laintiff's ...

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