Spencer v. Wetzel et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Signed by Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick on 9/12/2013. (cw)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROBERT COLLINS, et al.
(Magistrate Judge Mehalchick)
This matter comes before this Court on the pro se Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (Doc. 43)
and Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 47). Both motions have been fully briefed, and these matters are
ripe for disposition.
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he Plaintiff alleges that he is currently incarcerated at
SCI-Frackville. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 4). He also alleges that there is a policy of having inmates in the
Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) at SCI-Frackville live in “constant illumination” under a night
light, which the inmates cannot control. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 11-12). He further alleges that the
Defendants have been informed through grievances of the Plaintiff’s deteriorating “physical and
mental health,” including temporary blindness “for seconds at a time” and white spots before his
eyes. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 13). He also contends that the night light has caused him to be permanently nearsighted and have to wear eyeglasses, and that he is unable to concentrate, is agitated and suffers
from other conditions attributable to the RHU night light. (Doc. 1. at ¶ 15). Finally, Plaintiff states
that the night light serves no legitimate penalogical purpose and the Defendants do not need to see
into the cells 24 hours a day. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 16).
II. PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO COMPEL
In Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (Doc. 43), Plaintiff seeks the production of a number of
documents which Defendants have objected to as privileged and confidential.
Defendants have objected to the production of these documents on the grounds that the release of
the documents will adversely affect safety and security within the institutions. The documents
sought by the Plaintiff include the Plaintiff’s mental health records and the Department of
Correction’s 6.5.1 Policy and Procedures Manual, which addresses the Administration of Security
Level 5 Housing Units.
A. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) provides, in relevant part, as follows:
(b) Discovery Scope and Limits.
(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order,
the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain
discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant
to any party's claim or defense-including the existence,
description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any
documents or other tangible things and the identity and
location of persons who know of any discoverable matter.
For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter
relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant
information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery
appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of
admissible evidence. All discovery is subject to the limitations
imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).
(2) Limitations on Frequency and Extent.
(C) When Required. On motion or on its own, the
court must limit the frequency or extent of
discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by
local rule if it determines that:
(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably
cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained
from some other source that is more
convenient, less burdensome, or less
(ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample
opportunity to obtain the information by
discovery in the action; or
(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed
discovery outweighs its likely benefit,
considering the needs of the case, the amount
in controversy, the parties' resources, the
importance of the issues at stake in the
litigation, and the importance of the discovery
in resolving the issues.
Although the scope of relevance in discovery is broader than that allowed for evidentiary
purposes, it is not without its limits. Banks v. Beard, 2013 WL 3773837, *2 (M.D.Pa. July 17, 2013);
citing Stabilus v. Haynsworth, Baldwin, Johnson & Greaves, P.A., 144 F.R.D. 258, 265 (E.D.Pa.1992)
(citations omitted). Courts will not permit discovery where a request is made in bad faith, unduly
burdensome, irrelevant to the general subject matter of the action, or relates to confidential or
privileged information. Id.; citing Goodman v. Wagner, 553 F.Supp. 255, 258 (E.D.Pa.1982). However,
the burden is on the objecting party to demonstrate in specific terms why a discovery request is
improper. Hicks v. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, 168 F.R.D. 528, 529 (E.D.Pa.1996); Goodman,
553 F.Supp. at 258. The party objecting must show that the requested materials do not fall “within
the broad scope of relevance ... or else are of such marginal relevance that the potential harm
occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure....”
Burke v. New York City Police Dep't., 115 F.R.D. 220, 224 (S.D.N.Y.1987).
B. Plaintiff’s Mental Health Records
Plaintiff seeks the production of his mental health records.
The Department of
Corrections does not normally permit inmates to maintain copies of their medical records,
including mental health records, as it is the position of the Department that the release of these
records to inmates will expose mental health treatment staff to possible retaliation by the inmates,
and additionally may compromise the treatment process. (Doc. 46). The Court finds the reasons
submitted by the Defendants to be persuasive, and that, upon a review of the Declaration of
Secretary Wetzel (Doc. 46), the security concerns related to mental health records are justified.
Further, while Plaintiff’s suit does allege that the night light is causing him to be agitated and
“exacerbates his mood disorder” (Doc. 1), Plaintiff’s suit does not challenge his mental health
treatment. As such, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel the production of his mental
C. The 6.5.1 Policy and Procedures Manual
Plaintiff also seeks the production of the confidential Department 6.5.1 Policy and
Procedures Manual, which involves the safe and secure operations of the institutions. Defendants
submit that the release of this manual to inmates would jeopardize the safety and security of the
institutions, and that such documents are not normally released to inmates. (Doc. 46). The United
States Supreme Court has recognized a qualified government documents privilege. Kerr v. United
States Dist. Court for the No. Dist. Of Cal., 426 U.S. 394, 405 (1976).
The Court agrees that
Defendants’ concerns are valid, and that the safety and security concerns of the Defendants and
the public in general outweigh any evidentiary benefit the Plaintiff may receive in obtaining the
documents. See also, Paluch v. Dawson, 2007 WL 4375937, *2-3 (M.D.Pa. December 12, 2007). As
such, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel the production of the 6.5.1 Policy and
III. PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
Plaintiff has also filed a Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 47), in which he seeks sanctions
against Defendants for failing to respond to Plaintiff’s discovery requests. Specifically, Plaintiff
seeks the “sanction of default” and “any other cost or sanction that this court deems proper and
just.” (Doc. 48). Defendants object to the Motion for Sanctions on the basis that (1) Plaintiff’s
motion is premature, given the outstanding motion to compel; and (2) none of the Poulis factors
apply to Defendants’ actions.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2)(A) authorizes a court to impose sanctions on a
party who violates an order of the court to “provide or permit discovery.” Sanctions for violation
of Rule 37(b)(2)(A) include orders by the court ranging from designating that certain facts be
admitted, to prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or
defenses, to monetary damages or even the dismissal of all or part of the action. Fed. R. Civ. P.
Whether to impose sanctions for failure to comply with discovery orders is committed to
the court's discretion. Banks v. Beard, 2013 WL 3773837, *9 (M.D.Pa. July 17, 2013); relying on
Flaherty v. M.A. Brunder & Sons, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 137, 141 (E.D.Pa. 2001). Any sanction imposed
should be just and must be specifically related to the particular claim or claims at issue in the order
to provide discovery violated by the offending party. Banks, supra; citing Ins. Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v.
Compagnie Des Bauxites, 456 U.S. 694, 707, 102 S.Ct. 2099, 72 L.Ed.2d 492 (1982). The Court is to
assess the culpability of the offending party and the prejudice to the party seeking sanctions. See
Estate of Spear v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 41 F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir.1994). In so doing, Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2) provides a variety of sanctions which a court may impose.
In this matter, sanctions are not warranted. First, as Defendants correctly state, the motion
for sanctions was made prematurely, as a motion to compel the discovery at issue was pending
before this Court. Additionally, this Court is denying Plaintiff’s motion to compel. Defendants
advanced appropriate objections to Plaintiff’s requests. Finally, none of the Poulis factors warrant
the imposition of sanctions. In Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, 747 F.2d 863 (3d
Cir.1984), the Third Circuit enunciated six factors by which the district courts should be guided
when a sanction of dismissal is under consideration. The Poulis factors include: (1) the extent of
the party's personal responsibility; (2) the extent of prejudice to the adversary caused by the failure
to meet scheduling orders and to respond to discovery; (3) a history of dilatoriness; (4) whether the
conduct of the party was willful or in bad faith; (5) the effectiveness of sanctions other than
dismissal; and (6) the meritoriousness of the claim or defense. Poulis, 747 F.2d at 868. Although
these factors guide the court's decision regarding the sanction of dismissal, each factor need not be
satisfied in order for the district court to find that dismissal is warranted. Ware v. Rodale Press, Inc.,
322 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir.2003)). It is well-settled that no single factor is dispositive. Id. at 222.
Given the prematurity of the filing of Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions, along with the
absence of any basis for sanctions against the Defendants, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion.
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Karoline Mehalchick
Dated: September 12, 2013
United States Magistrate Judge
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