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Reyes v. Wenderlich

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 30, 2017

EARL REYES, Plaintiff,
JOHN WENDERLICH, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION & ORDER

          MARIAN W. PAYSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Earl Reyes (“Reyes”), acting pro se, filed a complaint asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against several defendants employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”). (Docket # 1). Reyes's claims stem from his incarceration at Southport Correctional Facility between October 2013 and March 2014. (Id.). Specifically, Reyes asserts a claim relating to the conditions of his confinement at Southport during the relevant period, maintaining that the temperature in his cellblock was impermissibly cold due to a non-functional heating system. (Id.). This claim is asserted against defendants John Wenderlich (“Wenderlich”), Amy Farnham (“Farnham”), and David Morgan (“Morgan”) (collectively, the “conditions of confinement defendants”). (Id. at ¶¶ 101-03). Reyes also asserts that defendants J. Clement (“Clement”), Ben Oakes (“Oakes”), J. vonHagn (“vonHagn”), K. Weaver (“Weaver”), Z. Gould (“Gould”), and K. Walsh[1] (“Walsh”) (collectively, the “medical defendants”) were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. (Id. at ¶¶ 104-10).

         Currently pending before this Court is Reyes's motion for an order to compel further responses to interrogatories, document requests, and requests for admission. (Docket # 55). Also pending are Reyes's motions to authorize depositions upon written questions of various witnesses. (Docket ## 58, 64).

         I. Motion to Compel

         According to Reyes, on December 15, 2015, he served the conditions of confinement defendants with a set of 25 interrogatories each (totalling 75 requests), 14 document requests, and approximately 59 requests for admission. (Docket # 55 at 5, ¶ 2 and Appendix (“App.”) A). The conditions of confinement defendants responded to the discovery demands on March 15, 2016. (Docket ## 45; 48; 49; 55 at 5, ¶ 4 and App. B). On December 15, 2015, Reyes also served the medical defendants with approximately 112 interrogatories, 7 documents requests, and 64 requests for admission. (Docket # 55 at 5, ¶ 2 and App. A). The medical defendants' responses were also served on March 15, 2016. (Docket ## 46; 47; 50; 55 at 5, ¶ 4 and App. B). Reyes has raised issues with respect to the majority of the responses. (Docket # 55). He also seeks $50 in expenses.[2] (Id. at 3).

         On March 16, 2016, Reyes wrote a one-page letter to counsel for defendants expressing general concerns regarding the discovery responses and requesting a conference. (Docket # 55 at App. C). Counsel for defendants responded on March 22, 2016, explaining the basis for a variety of their objections and requesting that Reyes specify any particular requests and responses in dispute. (Docket # 55 at App. D). Given the substantial number of discovery responses, totalling approximately 190 pages, counsel for defendants requested that Reyes specify particular responses at issue prior to arranging a conference. (Id.). Rather than provide the requested specificity, Reyes filed the pending motion on May 24, 2016. (Docket # 55 at 7).

         Defendants have opposed the motion, maintaining that Reyes failed to adequately confer prior to filing the pending motion. (Docket # 60 at ¶¶ 20-37). Additionally, defendants maintain that their responses to the discovery requests were adequate and appropriate. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-169).

         A. Failure to Confer

         Having reviewed the requests, responses, and the parties' submissions, I find that Reyes failed to comply with Rule 37(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because he made no meaningful effort to resolve or narrow his discovery disputes with defendants prior to filing the motions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1) (“[t]he motion must include a certification that the movant has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make disclosure or discovery in an effort to obtain it without court action”). Although Reyes sent a letter to counsel for defendants raising general concerns about defendants' responses and objections, Reyes did not make any effort to identify the discovery disputes with specificity, despite defendants' request that he do so. Simply stated, Reyes's single-page letter identifying his vague and general concerns was insufficient to fulfill his obligation to confer with opposing counsel in good faith prior to filing this motion. His delinquency is especially glaring because Reyes apparently has very specific disputes with the majority of defendants' numerous, individual responses. Reyes's failure to comply with Rule 37 warrants denial of his motion in its entirety, including his requests for costs. See Brown v. Clayton, 2013 WL 1409884, *2 (D. Conn. 2013) (“[t]he failure to follow the meet and confer requirement is a sufficient basis for denying the motion to compel”).

         Despite the absence of any meaningful conferral, defendants have provided a lengthy, detailed response to Reyes's concerns, presumably in an attempt to narrow the issues pending before the Court. (Docket # 60). At this time, Reyes's conferral obligations require him to respond to defendants' submission and, considering defendants' explanations, respond to those explanations with particularity in order to identify any remaining disputes. Although the conferral process has not yet been completed, given the extensive submissions relating to the disputes, the Court will attempt, where possible, to narrow some of the issues in order to assist the parties' conferral process.

         B. Responses to Document Demands (Docket ## 49, 50)

         Reyes generally objects to defendants' responses to document requests to the extent they indicate that defendants would search for and produce responsive documents and failed to indicate whether responsive materials were being withheld based upon objections. (Docket # 55 at 8). Reyes also maintains that defendants improperly objected to certain phrases or assumptions contained in several requests (Docket ## 49 at ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, and 4; 50 at ¶ 3). Finally, Reyes maintains that defendants have failed to produce a document executed by Farnham regarding heating system repairs that was provided to another prisoner. (Docket # 55 at 6, ¶¶ 11 and 8).

         In response, defendants maintain that they have produced documents responsive to Reyes's demands, although some of the documents were produced prior to Reyes's demands as part of the initial mandatory disclosures. (Docket # 60 at ¶ 54 (citing Docket ## 23, 30, 53 and 54)). According to defendants, they have produced approximately 1, 244 pages of documents. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41). Additionally, defendants explained their specific objections to certain phrases and assumptions and maintained that those objections were appropriate; in any event, they have not withheld any documents on the basis of such objections. (Docket # 60 at ¶¶ 51-53, 62). I find that defendants have properly responded to Reyes's general disputes. To the extent Reyes is not satisfied with defendants' further explanations, he must specifically identify why defendants' explanations have not resolved his concerns.

         It does not appear that defendants have responded to Reyes's request for the document authored by Farnham. Accordingly, defendants should search for and produce the document, or confer further with Reyes to the extent they are unable to do so.

         1.Grievances and Disciplinary Records

         Several of Reyes's requests seek grievances, complaints or lawsuits against the defendants, along with related documents. (Docket ## 49 at ¶¶ 2, 3, 10; 50 at ¶ 3). Specifically, Reyes sought all grievances and correspondence relating to the heating system on 12 Gallery A Block during the relevant period. (Docket # 49 at ¶¶ 2-3). Reyes also requested grievances, complaints, lawsuits or disciplinary action taken against each defendant. (Docket ## 49 at ¶ 10; 50 at ¶ 3). With respect to the medical defendants, Reyes specifically requested any grievances or complaints relating to denial of medical treatment. (Docket # 50 at ¶ 3).

         In response, defendants maintain that they have produced documents related to the complaints regarding the heat on A Block 12 Gallery and that they would search for and produce any additional documents relating to such complaints. (Docket # 49 at ¶¶ 2-3 (citing Docket # 23 at Exhibit C)). Thus, it appears that defendants have searched for and produced responsive documents. To the extent Reyes continues to dispute the adequacy of the response to these requests, he must confer with defendants and identify any specific concerns.

         With respect to grievances, complaints and lawsuits against them, defendants objected to the requests on the grounds that it would be unduly burdensome to search for and produce grievances because grievances are filed by inmate name, as opposed to subject matter. (Docket ## 49 at ¶ 10; 50 at ¶ 3). Instead, with respect to the conditions of confinement defendants, they agreed to produce records of any disciplinary events taken against the officers relating to truth and veracity or to conditions of confinement. (Docket # 49 at ¶ 10). With respect to the medical defendants, they agreed to search for and produce records reflecting any lawsuits against the defendants relating to the denial of medical treatment and also referred Reyes to the PACER system to identify lawsuits against those defendants. (Docket # 50 at ¶ 3).

         Reyes's request for all grievances against the defendants is overly broad and not proportional to the needs and issues raised by this litigation. See Willey v. Kirkpatrick, 2011 WL 4368692, *5 (W.D.N.Y. 2011) (“[a]s this Court has previously held, the burden of searching all inmates' files for grievances against specific defendants is unduly burdensome”) (citing Melendez v. Falls, 2010 WL 811337, *4 (W.D.N.Y.2010)). It appears that defendants have produced all documents relating to grievances concerning the heating system during the relevant time period. To the extent they have not, they are directed to do so. Defendants have represented that the conditions of confinement defendants' personnel files have been reviewed and no complaints or disciplinary actions relating to either truth and veracity or conditions of confinement existed within those files. Defendants are directed to review the medical defendants' personnel records and produce any complaints or disciplinary actions relating to either truth and veracity or denial of medical treatment. Further, defendants are directed to search for and produce any documents within their possession, custody, or control identifying any lawsuits against any of the defendants relating to either conditions of confinement or denial of medical care.

         2.Contact Information

         Reyes requests the contact information for several non-parties.[3] (Docket # 49 at ¶ 12). Specifically, Reyes requests the contact information for other inmates who filed grievances complaining about the heat on A Block, Gallery 12 during the relevant period. (Id.). Defendants have refused to respond to this request on the grounds that it does not seek documents and because the provision of such information would constitute a security risk. (Id.).

         Although the Court agrees that providing contact information for other inmates may present security concerns under certain circumstances, these individuals are likely to have information that is relevant to the lawsuit. “Balancing the need to maximize the plaintiff's access to sources of probative evidence and the security concerns raised by the defendants, the court will not require the defendants to supply ...

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