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Fifield v. Eaton

March 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marian W. Payson United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Darwin Fifield ("Fifield") has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant Eaton, a counselor with the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), violated various of his constitutional rights by punishing him for not admitting to crimes that he did not commit. (Docket # 1). Specifically, Fifield asserts that defendant unlawfully terminated him from participation in the DOCS' Sex Offender Program ("SOP") when he refused to admit to certain criminal conduct contained in the victim's statement. Fifield alleges that he did not engage in that conduct and that his unlawful termination from that program resulted in a longer term of imprisonment than he otherwise would have served. (Docket # 15, "Fifield Aff." at ¶¶ 5-25).

Fifield has filed four motions that are currently pending before this Court: a motion for discovery, filed on August 12, 2008 (Docket # 11); a motion to compel discovery, filed on January 13, 2009 (Docket # 30); and, two motions for appointment of counsel, filed on February 24, 2009 and March 20, 2009. (Docket ## 38, 44).

I. Plaintiff's Discovery Motions

The threshold requirement of discoverability under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is whether the information sought is "relevant to any party's claim or defense."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). To be discoverable, the information "need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

Id. The relevance standard is necessarily broad in scope in order "to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (citation omitted). See Daval Steel Products, a Div. of Francosteel Corp. v. M/V Fakredine, 951 F.2d 1357, 1368 (2d Cir. 1991) (parties entitled to discovery of any matter that appears "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery" of evidence) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1)); American Banana Co. v. Republic Nat'l Bank of New York, 2000 WL 521341, *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) ("Rule 26 plainly allows discovery related to the claims and defenses of any party").

Although the scope of discovery under the Federal Rules is broad, it is not without limitation. "Rule 26 vests the trial judge with broad discretion to tailor discovery narrowly." Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). Even when the material in question is discoverable under the rules, "the Court still has considerable discretion to evaluate the practical realities of discovery, balancing the importance of the information against the burdens of production to decide whether fairness does or does not require production, and if so, on what terms." Jones v. Goord, 2002 WL 1007614, *6 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

On July 24, 2008, defendant filed initial disclosures pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. (Docket # 10). Approximately two weeks later, Fifield filed a motion for discovery.

(Docket # 11). His motion is essentially a request for the production of documents, rather than a motion to compel, since Fifield had not previously requested the documents sought in the motion. Defendant responded to the motion, objecting to some of the requests and declaring that some of the documents requested had already been produced in the Rule 26 disclosures. (Docket # 13). Fifield then filed a reply to defendant's response, as well as a second motion to compel, again requesting the production of certain documents sought in his first motion. (Docket ## 30, 39). The reply and the motion to compel raise the following issues.

Fifield requests "[t]he document that all sex offenders must write when entering the [SOP]," specifically, the "crime summary sheet" that he completed when he entered the SOP. (Docket # 11 at ¶¶ 2-3). Defendant initially responded that a redacted copy of this document was provided to plaintiff as Exhibit C in the Rule 26 disclosures. (Docket ## 13 at ¶ 1, 39 at ¶ 2). Fifield maintains, however, that the document defendant produced is not the one he seeks. He explains that he recalls that the original document contained statements handwritten in red ink by a counselor accusing him of multiple instances of rape; those notations are missing from the copy provided in Exhibit C. (Docket ## 15 at ¶¶ 1-6, 30 at ¶¶ 7-8).

On this record, defendant is directed to compare the redacted copy to the original document to determine whether the material redacted is consistent with the notations Fifield has described. If so, defendant is directed to produce by April 13, 2009, an unredacted copy to Fifield or the original to the Court for in camera inspection to assess the appropriateness of the redactions. If not, defendant shall serve and file by April 13, 2009, an affidavit describing the search undertaken to locate the document Fifield has described.

Fifield also moves to compel production of the original of page eight of Exhibit B in defendant's initial disclosure because he believes that the copy he received reflects alterations from the original. Specifically, he contends that the victim's age has been changed and that the second paragraph has been rewritten. (Docket ## 11 at ¶¶ 6-7, 30 at ¶¶ 4-6). Defendant represents that the document was provided without alteration, except minor redactions to protect the identity of the victim. (Docket # 13 at ¶¶ 5-6). On this record, the Court directs defendant to confirm the adequacy of the search undertaken to locate the "original" described by Fifield. Defendant shall serve and file by April 13, 2009, an affidavit describing the search and the results of the search.

Fifield seeks homework assignments he completed during his enrollment in the SOP. (Docket ## 11 at ¶ 8, 30 at ¶¶ 9-10). Since he filed the motion to compel, defendant has produced the one homework assignment that is contained in Fifield's file. (Docket # ...

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