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Harnage v. Lightner

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 27, 2018

JAMES A. HARNAGE
v.
RIKEL LIGHTNER, et al.

          RULING ON MOTIONS TO COMPEL RESPONSES RE: INTERROGATORIES AND REQUESTS FOR PRODUCTION DIRECTED TO RIKEL LIGHTNER (DOCS. #87, #88, #89, #92, #93)

          HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Self-represented plaintiff James A. Harnage (“plaintiff”) has filed five motions to compel, collectively seeking an order compelling defendant Rikel Lightner (“defendant” or “Lightner”) to “respond to the Plaintiffs Interrogatories and Request For Production and perfect Defendant Lightner's Supplemental Responses.” Doc. #87 at 1 (sic); see also Docs. #88 at 1, #89 at 1, #92 at 1, #93 at 1 (hereinafter collectively referred to as the “motions to compel”). For the reasons set forth below:

         Plaintiff's motion to compel volume one [Doc. #87] is GRANTED, in limited part, and DENIED, in large part;

         Plaintiff's motion to compel volume two [Doc. #88] is GRANTED, in limited part, and DENIED, in large part;

         Plaintiff's motion to compel volume three [Doc. #89] is DENIED;

         Plaintiff's motion to compel volume four [Doc. #92] is GRANTED, in limited part, and DENIED, in large part; and

         Plaintiff's motion to compel volume five [Doc. #93] is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. See generally Doc. #23, Amended Complaint. Plaintiff asserts that he was denied appropriate medical care for his abdominal hernia. See generally Id. Plaintiff asserts that the named defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in that regard. See generally Id. On November 16, 2017, Judge Alvin W. Thompson issued an initial review order addressing the allegations of the Amended Complaint. See Doc. #24. In addition to re-affirming the prior dismissal of defendant Shari, Judge Thompson dismissed defendants Rob, Francis, Caldonero, Caroline, Nikki, Marissa, Miya, James, and Jane and John Does, because “[t]he allegations against these defendants still fail to show that any of these defendants were informed of the plaintiff's medical needs and acted or failed to act in response to that information.” Id. at 9. Judge Thompson also dismissed defendant Dr. Wu because plaintiff's allegations “that Dr. Wu initiated a policy of ignoring, denying or delaying medical treatment for financial reasons[] ... are mere conjecture ... [and] not plausible[.]” Id. at 24.

         Judge Thompson permitted the Amended Complaint to proceed against defendants Lightner, P.A. McChrystal, and Dr. Pillai. See Id. at 9-10. With respect to defendant Lightner, plaintiff alleges that he “repeatedly sought treatment from the defendants to repair” his abdominal hernia, “including the submission of Inmate Request Forms” on numerous dates “directly to Lightner[.]” Doc. #23, Amended Complaint at ¶33. Judge Thompson determined that said allegation, if proven, would be “sufficient to demonstrate that defendant Lightner was aware of [plaintiff's] concerns[]” and that “[t]aken together with the plaintiff's allegations that no treatment was provided, ... states a plausible claim for denial of treatment.” Doc. #24 at 10.

         As to defendants Dr. Pillai and P.A. McChrystal, plaintiff alleges that he was seen by Dr. Pillai on April 25, 2014, when Dr. Pillai “finally requested a surgical consult.” Doc. #23, Amended Complaint at ¶39. On May 5, 2014, the Utilization Review Committee (“URC”) denied that request. See Id. at ¶40. Plaintiff further alleges that he “continued seeking repair of the hernia and was seen again on December 22, 2014 and February 4, 2015 by Pillai and McChrystal who recommended surgical correction.” Id. at ¶41. Plaintiff received surgical correction of his abdominal hernia on September 1, 2015. See Id. at ¶42. Judge Thompson determined that the foregoing allegations “are sufficient to put defendants Pillai and McChrystal on notice of when the examinations occurred and what actions are the subject of this action. There is a question regarding the seriousness of the plaintiff's condition and whether the defendants understood the seriousness and possible effects of providing no treatment, which supports a plausible deliberate indifference claim.” Doc. #24 at 10. Thus, the only claims that remain in this matter are “the deliberate indifference to medical needs claims against defendants Lightner, Pillai and McChrystal.” Id. at 11.

         The Court presumes familiarity with the procedural background leading to this point in the proceedings. After plaintiff filed the motions now at issue, plaintiff and counsel for defendants engaged in several teleconferences in an attempt to resolve discovery-related disputes in this and plaintiff's other pending federal cases. See Docs. #102, #108. On October 29, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Status Report detailing the results of their efforts. [Doc. #102]. A Joint Supplemental Status Report was then filed on December 5, 2018. [Doc. #108]. Those status reports represent that several of the disputed requests raised in plaintiff's motions have been resolved by agreement of the parties. See generally Doc. #108 at 7-9.

         Bearing the above in mind, the Court turns to plaintiff's motions to compel.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the scope and limitations of permissible discovery:

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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). “[T]he burden of demonstrating relevance remains on the party seeking discovery.” Bagley v. Yale Univ., 315 F.R.D. 131, 144 (D. Conn. 2016) (citation omitted), as amended (June 15, 2016); Republic of Turkey v. Christie's, Inc., 326 F.R.D. 394, 400 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (same). Once the party seeking discovery has demonstrated relevance, the burden then shifts to “[t]he party resisting discovery ... [to] show[] why discovery should be denied.” Cole v. Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby, 256 F.R.D. 79, 80 (D. Conn. 2009) (alterations added).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff's five motions to compel are directed to Lightner's objections and supplemental responses to plaintiff's interrogatories and requests for production. The Court addresses each motion in turn.

         A. Motion to Compel Volume One [Doc. #87]

         Volume one of plaintiff's motion to compel addresses Lightner's objections and supplemental responses to interrogatories 1 through 10. See generally Doc. #87.

         Plaintiff first takes issue with Lightner's objections to the instructions and definitions preceding plaintiff's written discovery requests. See Doc. #87 at 1, 3.[1] Plaintiff contends that the “federal and local rules allow the plaintiff to define terms to be used in discovery.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff fails to support that assertion with any citation to the Federal or Local Rules. Regardless, the Court does not have the benefit of plaintiff's instructions and therefore cannot properly assess defendant's objections thereto. See Doc. #87 at 85 (objection to plaintiff's instructions and definitions). However, the Court notes that to the extent defendant generally objects to the instructions and definitions on the basis of the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection, such objections are not properly asserted and do not comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See P. & B. Marina, Ltd. P'ship v. Logrande, 136 F.R.D. 50, 53-54 (E.D.N.Y. 1991) (“The party claiming the privilege has the burden of establishing the attorney- client relationship and the applicability of the privilege to the particular circumstances and discovery requests. A general allegation or blanket assertion that the privilege should apply is insufficient to warrant protection.” (internal citations omitted)), aff'd sub nom. P&B Marina Ltd. v. LoGrande, 983 F.2d 1047 (2d Cir. 1992). Accordingly, to the extent any documents have been withheld on such a basis, defendant shall assert the privilege for each request to which it applies, and provide plaintiff with a privilege log that complies with the Local and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Plaintiff takes issue with defendant's supplemental responses to interrogatories 2.c. and 2.d. See Doc. #87 at 3. The Court has reviewed those interrogatories and defendant's objections and supplemental responses thereto. See Id. at 197. The Court sustains defendant's objection to interrogatory 2.c. Although plaintiff states he requires the information in interrogatory 2.c. -- “[t]he current and last known contact source or agent(s)” -- to “investigate any of defendants employment history[, ]” Doc. #87 at 3 (sic), defendant Lightner has already provided information concerning her employment history, including the names of her current and prior supervisors and the address of her current and prior employers, and has stated that she “has never left or separated from a job in the medical field for reasons related to misconduct or wrongdoing or alleged misconduct or wrongdoing.” Id. at 198. Accordingly, the Court will not require defendant to provide any further response to subpart 2.c. The Court will, however, require defendant to supplement her response to interrogatory 2.d. Defendant Lightner shall identify her job duties for each of the jobs listed in interrogatory 2. To the extent defendant seeks to rely on a document to provide that information, defendant shall specifically state the name of the document(s) upon which she relies, and provide a copy of that document(s) to plaintiff.

         Plaintiff next takes issue with defendant's responses to interrogatories 3 and 4. See Doc. #87 at 5, 7, 9. The parties represent that the dispute regarding interrogatories 3 and 4 has been resolved. See Doc. #108 at 8. Accordingly, the Court does not reach the merits of plaintiff's motion to compel as to interrogatories 3 and 4.

         As to interrogatory 5, defendant posed several objections and did not provide any answer. See Doc. #87 at 92-94. In addition to five subparts, interrogatory 5 requests defendant to: “Identify the procedures employed by you, at any time between September 13, 2013 through July 2016, at the MacDougall Correctional Institute[.]” Id. at 92. Interrogatory 5 is over broad in both substantive and temporal scope. It therefore necessarily implicates production of information that is not relevant to the claims remaining in this case. Interrogatory 5 is also vague as it is unclear what plaintiff means by “procedures employed[.]” Id. Thus, the Court sustains defendant's objections to interrogatory 5 on the grounds that it is overbroad, vague, and seeks information that is not relevant to this case.

         As to interrogatory 6, defendant posed several objections and did not provide any answer. See Id. at 94-98. In addition to several subparts, interrogatory 6 requests defendant to: “Identify all of your immediate supervisors and any notices, orders, restrictions or publications by either regarding the renewal or refill of inmate prescriptions or that of the plaintiff[.]” Id. at 94 (sic). Plaintiff contends, without explanation, that the information sought by interrogatory 6 and each of its subparts is “relevant to the central issues of this action.” Doc. #87 at 19, 21, 23, 25. As stated above, the claims remaining in this case relate to the alleged lack of medical care plaintiff received for his abdominal hernia. Those claims do not implicate the renewal or refill of inmate prescriptions. Plaintiff has not sustained his burden of establishing that the information sought in interrogatory 6 is relevant to the claims remaining in this case. Thus, the Court sustains defendant's objection to interrogatory 6 on the ground that it seeks information that is not relevant to this case.

         Plaintiff next takes issue with defendant's response to interrogatory 7, and its related subparts. See Doc. #87 at 27, 29, 31, 33. The Court has reviewed defendant Lightner's response to this interrogatory; it is sufficient and properly narrowed based on the law applicable to requests of this nature. See, e.g., Frails v. City of New York, 236 F.R.D. 116, 117-18 (E.D.N.Y. 2006). Indeed, in several other of plaintiff's federal cases, the Court has limited almost verbatim discovery requests in a manner similar to which defendant has narrowed her response. See, e.g., Harnage v. Wu, No. 16CV1543(AWT) (hereinafter “Harnage I”), Doc. #141, slip op. at 11 (D. Conn. May 7, 2018); Harnage v. Pillai, No. 17CV355(AWT), Doc. #39, slip op. at 7 (D. Conn. June 1, 2018). Accordingly, the Court will require no further response to interrogatory 7.

         Plaintiff takes issue with defendant's response to interrogatory 8. See Doc. #87 at 35. The parties represent that the dispute regarding interrogatory 8 has been resolved. See Doc. #108 at 8. Accordingly, the Court does not reach the merits of plaintiff's motion to compel as to interrogatory 8.

         As to interrogatory 9, defendant Lightner posed several objections and did not provide any answer. See Doc. #87 at 103-07. In addition to several subparts, interrogatory 9 requests: “If you claim you were acting under the orders of any person or institution during any of the activities you have, or will have described either above or below, identify each such person or institution and state exactly and in detail each such order[.]” Id. at 103. Plaintiff asserts that interrogatory 9 seeks “information [that] is relevant to the central issues of this action. ... The information will show habit, routine practice and policies.” Id. at 37, 39. The Court does not agree that the information sought would demonstrate defendant Lightner's habits or routine practices. Thus, plaintiff has not demonstrated the relevance of the information sought by interrogatory 9, and the Court sustains defendant's objection to interrogatory 9 on the ground that it seeks information that is not relevant to this case.

         Plaintiff takes issue with defendant's response to interrogatory 10. See Doc. #87 at 45, et seq. The parties represent that the dispute regarding interrogatory 10 has been resolved. See Doc. #108 at 8. Accordingly, the Court does not reach the merits of plaintiff's motion to compel as to interrogatory 10.

         Thus, for the reasons stated, plaintiff's motion to compel volume one [Doc. #87] is GRANTED, in limited part, and DENIED, in large part.

         B. Motion to Compel Volume Two [Doc. #88]

         Volume two of plaintiff's motion to compel addresses Lightner's responses and objections to interrogatories 11, 17, 18, 19, and 20. See generally ...


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