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Patten v. Hall

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

December 7, 2017

THOMAS PATTEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
LAFAYETTE HALL, et al., Defendants.


          Robert B. Jones, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on two discovery-related motions: (1) Plaintiffs' motion to compel [DE-117], to which Defendants Ronnie Britt, Clement Burney, Lafayette Hall, Charles Holland, Kenneth Jones, Jeffery Marks, Eugene Murphy, Henry Outlaw, Nelson Sanchez, and William M. Ward (collectively "Defendants") filed a response [DE-125], Plaintiffs filed a reply [DE-126], and Defendants filed a sur-reply at the direction of the court [DE-132]; and (2) Defendants' motion to compel [DE-136], to which Plaintiffs filed a response [DE-144]. The issues have been fully briefed, and the motions are ripe for decision. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion is allowed in part and denied in part and Defendants' motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, who were inmates in the custody of the State of North Carolina and were housed at Sampson County Correctional, filed this action alleging claims for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988, and the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, constructive fraud, civil conspiracy, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent employment and supervision, negligence, and punitive damages. [DE-45]. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Anthony Jackson, David Jones, Officer Hudson, Eugene Murphy, Ronnie Britt, William M. Ward, and Nelson Sanchez conspired to systematically abuse and humiliate Plaintiffs in order to intimidate them for the purpose of gaining their compliance smuggling contraband into the prison. Id. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants Kenneth N. Jones Jr., Sergeant Wilson, Henry Outlaw, Clement Burney, Charles Holland, Warden Lafayette Hall, and Jeffery Marks were aware or should have been aware of the conduct. Id.

         The court initially set a discovery deadline of June 7, 2017 [DE-104], which it later extended to September 8, 2017 [DE-114]. A further extension of the discovery deadline until October 8, 2017, was allowed for the limited purpose of conducting depositions. [DE-128, -131]. On April 30, 2017, Plaintiffs served their First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. [DE-117-1, -117-2]. Defendants, after receiving an extension [DE-116], responded on June 30, 2017. [DE-118-1]. Defendant Jackson did not respond to the discovery requests.[1] [DE-117]. Plaintiffs filed the instant motion to compel on August 10, 2017, asserting that Defendants' responses were deficient in several respects. Id. On August 10, 2017, Defendants served their First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. [DE-136-1]. Plaintiffs did not respond to the discovery requests, and Defendants filed the instant motion to compel on November 9, 2017. [DE-137].


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enable parties to obtain information by serving requests for discovery on each other, including interrogatories and requests for production of documents. See generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 26-37. Rule 26 provides for a broad scope of 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).

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[a] party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection" if a party fails to answer an interrogatory under Rule 33 or fails to produce or make available for inspection requested documents under Rule 34. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii), (iv). For purposes of a motion to compel, "an evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). However, the Federal Rules also provide that

the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by local rule if it determines that: (i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or (iii) the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). Additionally, "the court has 'substantial discretion' to grant or deny motions to compel discovery." English v. Johns, No. 5:ll-CT-3206-D, 2014 WL 555661, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 11, 2014) (quoting Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Inc. v. Alpha of Va., Inc., 43 F.3d 922, 929 (4th Cir. 1995)). Finally, the party seeking the court's protection from responding to discovery must make a particularized showing of why discovery should be denied, and conclusory or generalized statements fail to satisfy this burden as a matter of law. See Carefirst of Md, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 402-03 (4th Cir. 2003); see also Silicon Knights, Inc. v. Epic Games, Inc., 917 F.Supp.2d 503, 533 (E.D. N.C. 2012) (allowing motion to compel where, among other things, the responding party relied on boilerplate objections and "failed to articulate any specific objection to any particular interrogatory or request for production, and therefore has waived any legitimate objection it otherwise could have raised.") (citation omitted); Mainstreet Collection v. Kirkland's, Inc., 270 F.R.D. 238, 240 (E.D. N.C. 2010) (recognizing that boilerplate objections are not proper); Hy-Ko Prods. Co. v. Hillman Group, Inc., No. 5:09-MC-32, 2009 WL 3258603, at *2 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 8, 2009) ("In the usual instance, objections to discovery which simply recite stock phrases are not colorable. Generally, the mere cry of burdensomeness or irrelevance without any statement in support of these objections is disfavored by the court.").


         A. Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel [DE-117]

         Plaintiffs seek an order compelling Defendants Britt, Burney, Hall, Holland, K. Jones, Marks, Murphy, Outlaw, Sanchez, Ward, and Jackson to fully respond to Plaintiffs' First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production. [DE-117]. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants Britt, Burney, Hall, Holland, Kenneth Jones, Marks, Murphy, Outlaw, Sanchez, and Ward provided incomplete or unresponsive answers by asserting general objections without citing the grounds, asserting improper grounds, failing to provide a privilege log, asserting a reservation of the right to supplement but providing no subsequent supplementation, providing inadequate answers to interrogatories, and providing no responsive documents. [DE-118] ¶ 4. Plaintiffs' counsel, by letter of June 29, 2017, informed Defendants' counsel of the perceived deficiencies and suggested a phone conference to discuss the issues. [DE-117-3]. Defendants' counsel did not respond, [2] and Plaintiffs filed the instant motion on August 24, 2017.[3] [DE-118] ¶ 7.

         In response to Plaintiffs' motion, Defendants indicated they had supplemented their responses and asked the court to deny Plaintiffs' motion as moot. [DE-125]. In a reply, filed without leave of court, [4] Plaintiffs indicated that Defendants' supplementations provided no additional substantive information in response to the interrogatories and no documents were produced. [DE-126]. Defendants filed a sur-reply, as directed by the court, indicating that the North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("DPS") produced 10, 312 pages of documents and 270 cellular telephones in response to a Rule 30(b)(6) request, and that this production, along with Defendants' supplementation, are completely responsive to the discovery requests. [DE-132]. The supplemental responses were not provided to the court for consideration. To the extent Defendants attempt to rely on the DPS production to satisfy any part of their obligation to respond to Plaintiffs' interrogatories, they have failed to meet the requirements under the Federal Rules.

If the answer to an interrogatory may be determined by examining, auditing, compiling, abstracting, or summarizing a party's business records (including electronically stored information), and if the burden of deriving or ascertaining the answer will be substantially the same for either party, the responding party may answer by:
(1) specifying the records that must be reviewed, in sufficient detail to enable the interrogating party to locate and identify them as readily as the responding party could; and
(2) giving the interrogating party a reasonable opportunity to examine and audit the records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(d) (emphasis added). In other words, Defendants may not simply point to the 10, 000 plus documents produced by DPS and expect Plaintiffs to dig out the interrogatory answers. The Federal Rules require that each interrogatory be answered "separately and fully." Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). This requirement has been interpreted to exclude answering by reference to other documents such as pleadings, depositions, or other discovery responses. See Anderson v. Caldwell Cnty. Sheriff's Office, No. 1:09-CV-423, 2011 WL 2414140, at *4 (W.D. N.C. June 10, 2011) (citations omitted). If Defendants wish to invoke the option to produce business records (or to rely on business records produced by DPS) in response to Plaintiffs' interrogatories, they must comply with Rule 33(d).[5] Thus, for the purpose of this motion, the court will only consider each disputed discovery request and Defendants' responses thereto.

         i. Interrogatory No. 2 states:

Identify any and all liability insurance policies, including any "umbrella" or "excess" policies, in effect at the time of the incident that might apply to defendant's potential liability for damages awarded in this lawsuit, and state, for each policy listed: '
a. the name and address of the insurer,
b. the policy number,
c. the type of policy,
d. the identity of the named insured, and
e. the limits of liability insurance coverage available.

         [DE-117-1]. Defendants Hall, Britt, Ward, Burney, Murphy, Holland, Marks, Outlaw, Sanchez, and K. Jones each responded: "Objection. Without waiver, Defendant [] states that at all relevant times herein, there is sufficient insurance coverage in effect to cover any foreseeable judgment in this matter." [DE-118-1]. This response lacks any specific objection and does not answer the interrogatory as propounded. Accordingly, Defendants Hall, Britt, Ward, Burney, Murphy, Holland, Marks, Outlaw, ...

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