Santos v. Bledsoe et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER - Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, we will GRANT the Defendantsmotion for protective order (Doc. 47 ) and DENY the Plaintiffs motion to preserveevidence, (Doc. 38 ), and motion to compel discovery, (Doc. 60 ), without prejudice to the parties pursuing appropriate discovery once the pending, and potentially dispositive, motion to dismiss is resolved. Signed by Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson on August 23, 2011. (kjn )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ANGEL LUIS SANTOS,
B.A. BLEDSOE, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:10-CV-1599
(Magistrate Judge Carlson)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Statement of Facts and of the Case.
This case comes before the Court on three different and competing motions to
either compel (Docs. 38 and 60), or stay, (Doc. 47), discovery in this case. These
contrasting motions come before the Court against the backdrop of a prisoner civil
On August 22, 2010, the Plaintiff, Angel Luis Santos, an inmate confined in
the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (USP-Lewisburg)
commenced this action by filing a pro se complaint. (Doc. 1) Liberally construed,
Santos’ initial complaint leveled a series of Eighth Amendment claims involving his
conditions of confinement and the alleged failure of prison staff to protect him from
harm. In this initial complaint, Santos alleged that as an inmate housed in the Special
Management Unit (SMU) at USP-Lewisburg, he was "exposed to a pervasive and
excessive risk of inmate-on-inmate violence", due to Defendants' "lack of an effective
classification system, the policy of coerced-celling of inmates and the SMU staff’s
policy of refusing to physically intervene in altercations, fights or assaults until the
conflict is over." (Id.) Specifically, Santos stated that on January 27, 2010, he
"suffered predictable, preventable, serious physical injury when inmate Patrick
Martinez, without provocation, broke [his] nose, causing excruciating pain and severe
bleeding that necessitated a trip to the outside hospital." (Id.) Santos’ initial
complaint named Warden B.A. Bledsoe, Unit Manager D. Brewer, and Associate
Warden D. Young as Defendants. (Id.)
The current status of this litigation is as follows: The Defendants have filed a
motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment, which raises a number
of legal defenses to this complaint, including defenses grounded in qualified
immunity. (Doc. 65) This motion is fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for
resolution. In addition, Santos has filed two motions which are in the nature of
motions to compel discovery, a motion styled as a motion to preserve evidence, (Doc.
38), and a second, separate motion to compel discovery. (Doc. 60) Presented with
these discovery demands at a time when there is a pending, and potentially dispositive
motion filed in this case, the Defendants, in turn, have filed a motion for protective
order, (Doc. 47), which requests a stay of discovery pending resolution of the
Defendants’ motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment.
Upon consideration of the parties’ competing views and motions, for the
reasons set forth below we will GRANT the Defendants’ motion for protective order
(Doc. 47) and DENY the Plaintiff’s motion to preserve evidence, (Doc. 38), and
motion to compel discovery. (Doc. 60)
Issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under Rule 26 rest in the
sound discretion of the court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90
(3d Cir. 1987). A court’s decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be
disturbed only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v.
I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This broad discretion extends to decisions
under Rule 26(c) relating to the issuance of protective orders limiting and regulating
discovery. Indeed, it is undisputed that: “‘[t]he grant and nature of [a protective
order] is singularly within the discretion of the district court and may be reversed only
on a clear showing of abuse of discretion.’ Galella v. Onassis, 487 F.2d 986, 997 (2d
Cir.1973) (citation omitted).” Dove v. Atlantic Capital Corp., 963 F.2d 15, 19 (2d
Certain basic principles, however, guide the exercise of this discretion. One
of these cardinal principles, governing the exercise of discretion in this field, is that
the district court may properly defer or delay discovery while it considers a
potentially dispositive pretrial motion, provided the district court concludes that the
pretrial motion does not, on its face, appear groundless. See, e.g., James v. York
County Police Department, 160 F. App’x 126, 136 (3d Cir. 2005); Nolan v. U.S.
Department of Justice, 973 F.2d 843,849 (10th Cir. 1992); Johnson v. New York
Univ. Sch. of Ed., 205 F.R.D. 433, 434 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Briefly deferring discovery
in such a case, while the Court determines the threshold issue of whether a complaint
has sufficient merit to go forward, recognizes a simple, fundamental truth: Parties
who file motions which may present potentially meritorious and complete legal
defenses to civil actions should not be put to the time, expense and burden of factual
discovery until after these claimed legal defenses are addressed by the Court.
This principle applies with particular force in civil rights actions like the instant
case, where a party has filed a motion raising threshold consideration of claims of
qualified immunity. It is well established that qualified immunity is “an immunity
from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; and like an absolute immunity, it is
effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial [or the defendants is
compelled to undergo other burdens of litigation].” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511,
526 (1985)(emphasis in original).
In our view these principles control here, and dictate how we should exercise
our broad discretion in this field. The Defendants have filed a potentially dispositive
motion, which raises defenses including qualified immunity, a defense which is “an
immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability.” Id. The merits of these
claims are currently being addressed by the Court, ensuring a very prompt resolution
of this motion. In this setting, we conclude, consistent with settled case law, that:
“[A] stay of discovery is appropriate pending resolution of a potentially
dispositive motion where the motion ‘appear[s] to have substantial
grounds' or, stated another way, ‘do[es] not appear to be without
foundation in law.’” In re Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust
Litigation, 2002 WL 88278, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2002) ( quoting
Chrysler Capital Corp. v. Century Power Corp., 137 F.R.D. 209, 209-10
(S.D.N.Y.1991)) ( citing Flores v. Southern Peru Copper Corp., 203
F.R.D. 92, 2001 WL 396422, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2001); AntiMonopoly, Inc. v. Hasbro, Inc., 1996 WL 101277, at *2 (S.D.N.Y.
March 7, 1996)).
Johnson v. New York Univ. School of Educ., 205 F.R.D. 433, 434 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, we will GRANT the Defendants’
motion for protective order (Doc. 47) and DENY the Plaintiff’s motion to preserve
evidence, (Doc. 38), and motion to compel discovery, (Doc. 60), without prejudice
to the parties pursuing appropriate discovery once the pending, and potentially
dispositive, motion to dismiss is resolved.
So ordered this 23d day of August 2011.
S/Martin C. Carlson
Martin C. Carlson
United States Magistrate Judge
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