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Woodward v. Afify

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 19, 2017





         This case has been referred to the undersigned pursuant to Section 636(b)(1) of Title 28 of the United States Code, by the Honorable Richard J. Arcara, for the hearing and determination of all non-dispositive matters, the supervision of discovery, and the hearing and reporting of dispositive motions for consideration by the District Court. Before the Court are plaintiff Shawn Woodward's motions to compel discovery (Dkt. Nos. 53 and 63) and his request for subpoenas duces tecum (Dkt. No. 52). The Court's findings as to plaintiff's requests are set forth in detail below.


         Plaintiff Shawn Woodward (“plaintiff”), an inmate in the care and custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) who is proceeding pro se, filed the instant complaint against various officers and employees of the Elmira Correctional Facility alleging violations of his constitutional rights, including religious discrimination and retaliation for filing of grievances and lawsuits. On April 14, 2016, the District Court adopted this Court's Report and Recommendation which recommended granting in part and denying in part a motion to dismiss by defendants. As a result, plaintiff's pending claims are: (1) religious discrimination and retaliation against Chaplain Afify and Sargent Krause; (2) retaliation claims against Officers Sewalt, Otto and Corsi and excessive force claims against officer Sewalt; and (3) failure to prevent retaliation and assault against Counselor Livermore. Plaintiff alleges, in sum, that Chaplain Afify and Sargent Krause prevented him from attending Muslim prayer services and receiving Ramadan meals in retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits. He alleges that Officers Sewalt, Otto and Corsi assigned him undesirable job duties and filed false misbehavior reports also in retaliation for his filing of grievances and lawsuits. In addition, plaintiff alleges that Officer Sewalt assaulted him and that Counselor Livermore failed to prevent both the assault and Sewalt's filing of a false misbehavior report.

         Plaintiff and defendants have been engaged in discovery. Plaintiff filed the instant motions to compel and request for subpoenas, and defendants have responded. The Court heard oral argument, with plaintiff appearing by telephone, on January 6, 2017.


         Courts have wide discretion to manage discovery. In re Subpoena Issued to Dennis Friedman, 350 F.3d 65, 69 (2d Cir. 2003). Proportionality has assumed greater importance in discovery disputes since the 2015 amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, which now defines the scope of discovery as follows:

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 discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); Vaigasi v. Solow Mgmt. Corp., 11 Civ. 5088, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18460 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 16. 2016) (Pitman, M.J.) (explaining that the recent amendment to Rule 26 was “intended to encourage judges to be more aggressive in discouraging discovery overuse by emphasizing the need to analyze proportionality before ordering production of relevant information”). Rule 26 further provides that “[r]elevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). However, even when the requested information sought is relevant, “the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery” where it is “unreasonably cumulative or duplicative” or when “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i)(ii). Likewise, Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was recently amended to instruct that the federal rules “should be construed, administered and employed by the court and parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 (advisory committee notes explaining that court, lawyers and parties share this responsibility and that “effective advocacy is consistent with - and indeed depends upon - cooperative and proportional use of procedure”).

         Here, a significant amount of discovery has been exchanged and plaintiff has made extensive requests for additional documents and responses. In making a determination as to plaintiff's motions to compel, the Court has kept in mind these principles of fairness, expediency and proportionality.

         Motion to Compel Documents and Interrogatory Responses (Dkt. No. 53)

         Plaintiff moves to compel a response to Document Request #4 which demands “[a] copy of defendant Sewalt's [misbehavior report] wrote on Inmate Morrison in June/July 2014...[t]his inmate was house at the time in housing block C-2 gallery and one of the charges could have been assault on staff.” Similarly, plaintiff moves to compel a response to Document Request #22 which demands “[a] copy of the three [misbehavior reports] wrote by Defendant Afify on the three Muslim inmates in April 2014, one whose part of his name was ‘Mateen' and who at the time was housed in housing block I.” Defendants object to these requests on the grounds that they are vague, unduly burdensome and do not reasonably identify a document to be produced. Defendants indicate that DOCCS categorizes misbehavior reports by name of inmate rather than author, and that the system contains hundreds of “Inmate Morrison's” and at least eight “Mateen's”, notwithstanding those who have “Mateen” in a portion of their name.

         The Court finds that it is unduly burdensome to require defendants to search through hundreds of misbehavior reports in an attempt to find the reports that plaintiff is be referring to. See Treadway v. Voutour, 10-CV-42A, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81393 (W.D.N.Y. July 26, 2011) (Arcara, D.J.) (finding that a request which would require the review of over 900 grievances filed over the course of three years to be unduly burdensome). In addition, misbehavior reports written by defendants Sewalt and Afify about other inmates while arguably relevant, do not appear to be highly probative of the allegations in this lawsuit. In accordance with Rule 26, which requires the Court to consider the burden of the request as compared to its likely benefit, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion to compel these documents. See In re Weatherford Int'l Secs. Litig., 11 Civ. 1646, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75090 (S.D.N.Y. May 28, 2013) (Francis, M.J.) (in determining proportionality, courts balance “the value of the requested discovery against the cost of its production”). However, the motion to compel Requests #4 and #22 is denied without prejudice to renewal if plaintiff is able to provide more specific information about the inmates who are the subject of the misbehavior reports, which would allow DOCCS to more easily locate the documents.

         Plaintiff moves to compel responses to Document Request #5 (“Deposition by Written Questions directed at and responded to by non-party member Officer Curtis Brown and Defendant Krause in Woodward v. Beam, Case No. 07-cv-645.”); Document Request #12 (“A copy of the Rule 26 Disclosure provided by Defendant Afify and that which is related to Plaintiff's claims of religious deprivation. As asserted by the Plaintiff in People, et al. v. Fischer, et al., Case No. 13-cv-6113.”); and Document Request #13 (“A copy of the discovery responses provided by Defendant Afify in Peoples.”). Defendant objects to these requests on the basis that neither they nor DOCCS possess ...

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