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Jones v. Easter

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 11, 2019

THADDEUS JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF EASTER, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER ON MOTION TO COMPEL COMPLIANCE WITH COURT'S PREVIOUS ORDER COMPELLING DISCOVERY

          HON. KENNETH G. GALE U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff's “Motion to Compel Compliance with Court's Previous Order Compelling Discovery and Renewed Request for Sanctions and Clarification” filed pro se. (Doc. 60.) Having reviewed the submissions of the parties, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part, and taken under advisement in part. The Court also DENIES Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's motion. (Docs. 61, 62.)

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Thaddeus Jones brings civil rights claims, pro se, seeking monetary damages and punitive damages against the named Defendants as a result of injuries he alleges he sustained while being held as a pretrial detainee at the Sedgwick County Detention Facility in Wichita, Kansas (“SCDF”). (See Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that when he returned to his cell after breakfast on March 6, 2017, his

cell door was closed and secured. Five minutes later, another inmate walked up to Plaintiff's cell door and Defendant Officer Melendez, after just letting Plaintiff into the cell, let the other prisoner into Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Melendez had just witnessed Plaintiff violently shoving the other prisoner because he had stepped in front of Plaintiff in the breakfast line. After entering Plaintiff's cell, the prisoner assaulted Plaintiff and Plaintiff received injuries, including a laceration requiring sutures, which were photographed and treated. Plaintiff alleges the incident was foreseeable and no reasonable person would let a second prisoner into a single-person cell. Plaintiff alleges that his cell is located in an ‘aggravated pod' which calls for heightened awareness and security. Plaintiff alleges that the SCDC and Officer Melendez had a duty of care to protect Plaintiff from foreseeable harm by another inmate.

(Doc. 5, at 1-2.) Defendants generally deny Plaintiff's allegations.

         The underlying discovery requests were mailed by Plaintiff to counsel for Defendant Jeff Easter (“Defendant” or “Defendant Easter”) on September 26, 2018, making responses due on or before October 29, 2018. (Doc. 44, at 1.) Defendant's responses were hand-delivered on November 9, 2018, some 12 days late. (Id., at 2.) Defendant does not dispute this. (Doc. 45, at 4.) Defendant did not file a motion requesting an extension of time from the Court to respond to Plaintiff's discovery requests.

         In its initial Order regarding these discovery requests, the Court held that Defendant's stated reasoning for failing to provide timely answers does not excuse the failure to comply by the clear language of the Federal and Local Rules. (Doc. 49-1, at 4 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b).) The Court indicated that even if Defendant had good cause for failing to respond to Plaintiff's discovery requests in a timely manner, Defendant failed to provide any cause for choosing not to file a motion to extend the deadline to do so. (Id., at 6.) The Court continued that “Defendant was not free to merely ignore the deadline, ignore the Federal and Local Rules, and file his discovery responses when it was convenient for him.” (Id.) Ultimately, the Court found that “Defendant's responses were served in an untimely manner, Defendant made no attempt to ask the Court for an extension of time to respond, and, by Defendant's own statements, this was done intentionally or in complete disregard of the relevant Federal and Local Rules, ” which the Court found Defendant treated “with complete indifference.” (Id., at 7.)

         The Court thus granted Plaintiff's motion to Compel (Doc. 44) and held that Defendant's objections were waived. (Doc. 49-1, at 7.) Defendant was ordered to provide “complete and supplemental discovery responses, ” that were “without objection, ” by March 4, 2019. (Id.) Defendant was “specifically instructed to refrain from providing Plaintiff with evasive responses” and told not to include improper language such as “I did not prepare this document … but it appears to be” and “[w]hile I did not prepare or review this report prior to responding to this question, it appears to be consistent…” (Id.) Defendant was specifically ordered to provide “direct answers that reflect information not only known to him, but to which he has access.” (Id.)

         Supplemental responses were provided by Defendant on March 1, 2019. (Doc. 54; see also Doc. 60, at 9-15 and Doc. 61, at 13-19.) Plaintiff brings the present motion arguing that numerous of Defendant's supplemental responses were “evasive and incomplete, ” “unacceptable, ” and “willfully disobediant” [sic].[1] (Doc. 60, at 2.)

         Defendant responds that Plaintiff's motion should be stricken because Plaintiff did not comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1) “in that he did not offer any meaningful opportunity to respond to his [golden rule] letter…” (Doc. 61, at 4.) The Court finds that while Plaintiff's pre-motion attempts to confer were not ideal, they were not so blatantly insufficient as to justify striking Plaintiff's motion, as Defendant requests.[2] Defendant's Motion to Strike (Doc. 61, 62) is thus DENIED. Defendant did, however, provide a response to Plaintiff's arguments “[i]n the event the Court desires to address the merits” of Plaintiff's motion. The court does so desire and analysis will now turn to the substance of Plaintiff's motion and the Interrogatories at issue.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Discovery Requests at Issue.

         A. Interrogatory No. 2.

         This Interrogatory asks if Plaintiff and inmate Danny Williams “were identified by watch command as the two individuals in a fight in Pod #5 Section ‘A,' on March 6th, 2017, and the method used to make that determination?” (Doc. 61, at 13.) Defendant responded

While I didn't see the supposed altercation in question, Deputy Paredes has indicated that he saw inmate Thaddeus Jones jump to the head of the chow line on the morning of March 6, 2017, pushing past other inmates. It did not appear that there was an ‘altercation.' Only later in the morning, during First Shift, did inmate Jones claim that there was an altercation, and that was looked into by other Deputies, and a report was filed. No. formal investigation of a crime occurred, because Jones and Williams stated that they did not want a prosecution.

(Id., at 14.)

         Plaintiff objects that the language “[w]hile I did not see the supposed altercation in question” is “prohibited language only deliberately phrased in different words.” (Doc. 60, at 4.) Plaintiff continues that the response is “evasive” and “untruthful.” While Defendant's response includes superfluous, qualifying language, Defendant has answered Plaintiff's underlying inquiry as to who was involved in the “fight” and how that determination was made. Plaintiff's objections are overruled and this portion of his motion is DENIED.

         Plaintiff asks, however, that if a report was filed (as stated in Defendant's response), such report be produced to him. (Id.) In the interests of judicial economy, the GRANTS this portion of Plaintiff's motion and Orders Defendant to produce any such report to Plaintiff within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order. If the report has previously been produced, Defendant is instructed to identify the document by Bates number and date of production.

         B. Interrogatory No. 4.

         Interrogatory No. 4 asks for the facts that “the supervisor rel[ied] upon to make this determination that there was no violation of policy or procedure on the part of sheriff s employees, and no secondary related incidents[.]” (Doc. 61, at 14.) Defendant qualifies his response by stating that he “did not make this determination.” (Id.) Defendant continued, however, that

[d]uring the investigation process, detectives would review any videos or reports and conduct interviews. In the event there is a question as to a possible policy violation, the question would be referred to a supervisor to determine whether an investigation into the policy violation should be conducted. However, here, I do not believe this was investigated to determine if there was a violation of policy or procedure because it was a simple battery, inmate fight, and since Inmate Jones and Inmate Williams both stated they did not want to pursue charges, nothing went further than that. I know that the notes of the Detectives have already been produced to Jones, and between the findings found in the contents of those notes and his statement that he didn't want to prosecute, there was no formal investigation.

(Id.)

         Plaintiff argues that the “I did not make this determination” language is “prohibited” by the Court's prior Order, as well as “evasive and non-responsive” because the Interrogatory “asked what facts did the supervisor rely upon to determine there was not policy violation[.]” (Doc. 60, at 5.) The Court agrees that Defendant's response is riddled with improper qualifying language such as “I did not make this determination, ” “detectives would review, ” “[i]n the event, ” “the question would be referred, ” and “I do not believe this was investigated…”

         The Court understands that Defendant did not make this determination himself (although it is unclear from the response whether Defendant is stating that no such determination was made). The Interrogatory does not, however, ask if Defendant made this determination. Further, the Interrogatory does not ask Defendant what “would” happen, what he thinks occurred, or why he “believes” decisions were made. Rather, the Interrogatory asks Defendant for specific facts relied on ...


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