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Muslim v. Carmichael

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 16, 2019

SHAHID HASSAN MUSLIM, Plaintiff,
v.
ERWIN CARMICHAEL, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on pro se Plaintiff's Motions to Extend Discovery Deadline, (Doc. Nos. 24, 32), and Motion to Overrule Defendants' Objections to Request to Produce and to Compel Discovery and Sanctions, (Doc. No. 25).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint passed initial review on claims that Defendants deprived him of a religious diet and group prayer services, which substantially burdened his religious practice without the justification of any legitimate penological purpose in violation of the First Amendment and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), and that they violated the Equal Protection Clause by treating him differently from similarly situated inmates of other religions. See (Doc. No. 7). Defendants filed Answers and the Court filed a Pretrial Order and Case Management Plan setting a discovery cutoff date of June 6, 2018. (Doc. No. 13).

         In a Motion to Extend Discovery Deadline docketed on March 27, 2018, Plaintiff sought a 90-day extension of the discovery deadline, (Doc. No. 15), to which Defendants did not object, (Doc. No. 16). The Court granted the Motion. (Doc. No. 17). In his second Motion to Extend Discovery Deadline docketed on July 3, 2018, Plaintiff sought a six-month extension of time. (Doc. No. 18). Defendants did not object to an extension but argued that six months was excessive. (Doc. No. 19). The Court granted a 45-day extension of time. (Doc. No. 20). In his third Motion to Extend Discovery Deadline docketed on October 16, 2018, Plaintiff again sought a six-month extension of time and argued that discovery had been withheld by the prison for review. (Doc. No. 21). Defendants objected, noting that almost four-and-a-half months of extensions had already been granted and that Plaintiff failed to articulate good cause for another extension. (Doc. No. 22). The Court granted a final 30-day extension of time and cautioned the parties that “[n]o further extensions of time will be granted except on a showing of extraordinary circumstances.” (Doc. No. 23 at 2).

         Presently before the Court for consideration is Plaintiff's fourth Motion to Extend Discovery Deadline, docketed on December 3, 2018, (Doc. Nos. 24, ), asking the Court to either grant another extension of the discovery deadline or stay the proceedings pending consideration of his Motion to Overrule Defendants' Objections to Request to Produce and to Compel Discovery and Sanctions, (“Motion to Compel”), (Doc. No. 25). Defendants filed a Response objecting to the extension, arguing that the discovery deadline had already been repeatedly extended, that Defendants produced hundreds of pages of documents, and that only three requests for production remained at issue. Moreover, Defendants note that they would not be challenging the timeliness of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel and therefore that no extraordinary circumstances warranted another extension of time. (Doc. No. 27).

         In his Motion to Compel dated November 20, 2018, Plaintiff argues that Defendants violated the discovery rules and that the Court should compel production of documents and impose sanctions. (Doc. No. 25). Plaintiff contends that he requested production of documents for inspection and copying served on March 20 and May 30, 2018 and that Defendants objected to requests 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 without any reasonable justification. The Defendants filed a Response, (Doc. No. 29), stating that the parties had resolved their differences with regards to requests 1, 2, 3, 6 and 11 during a teleconference and that Defendants had provided supplemental discovery. Defendants attached to their Response a Certificate of Service on Second Supplemental Responses to Plaintiff's Request for Production of Documents addressed to Plaintiff with his Bureau of Prisons register number and address in Coleman, Florida. (Doc. No. 29-3).

         Defendants argue that requests 7 and 13 are not relevant to Plaintiff's claims, that Defendants have already produced documents relevant to requests 8, 12, and 14, and that Defendants have no additional documents that are responsive to these requests. In Plaintiff's “Addendum, ” (Doc. No. 30), he acknowledges that Defendants agreed to furnish documents in response to requests 1, 2, 3, and 11. In his Reply, (Doc. No. 37), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to provide the documents they agreed to produce in the teleconference, again asks the Court to grant the Motion to Compel and to grant a 30-day extension of time, and that sanctions should be imposed because Defendants failed to act in good faith.[1] Plaintiff filed a Notice of Interlocutory Appeal that was transmitted to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, (Doc. No. 40), and the appeal was dismissed for lack of prosecution and the mandate issued on April 4, 2019.[2] (Doc. Nos. 41, 43, 48).

         Meanwhile, on December 27, 2018, Plaintiff filed his fifth Motion to Extend Discovery Deadline, (Doc. No. 32), which is identical to the Motion docketed on December 3, 2018. See (Doc. No. 24). Defendants filed a Response objecting to another extension of the discovery deadline because it is not justified by extraordinary circumstances. (Doc. No. 35).

         II. DISCUSSION

         1) Motion to Compel

         The rules of discovery are to be accorded broad and liberal construction. See Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 177 (1979); Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947). All civil discovery, whether sought from parties or nonparties, is limited in scope by Rule 26(b)(1) in two fundamental ways: (1) the matter sought must be “relevant to any party's claim or defense, ” and (2) discovery must also be “proportional to the needs of the case.” Va. Dep't of Corr. v. Jordan, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 1562312 at*4 (4th Cir. April 11, 2019) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)). Relevance on its own is not a high bar; the proportionality requirement “relieves parties from the burden of taking unreasonable steps to ferret out every relevant document.” Id. Whether to grant or deny a motion to compel is generally left within the district court's broad discretion. Id.

         First, the Court denies the Motion to Compel with regards to requests 1, 2, 3, 6 and 11 because Defendants provided supplemental discovery in accordance with the parties' teleconference. Proper service in civil actions is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5, which provides that “[a] paper is served … by … mailing it to the person's last known address - in which event service is complete upon mailing….” Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(b)(2)(C); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(d)(1) (papers that are required to be served must also be filed with the court). “Because service is complete upon mailing, non-receipt of the [document] does not affect the validity of service.” United States v. Wright, 238 F.3d 418 (4th Cir. 2000). The burden of showing that service was made is on the serving party. See Id.; Rivera v. M/T Fossarina, 840 F.2d 152, 155 (1st Cir. 1988). A presumption that a document was actually mailed attaches to a valid certificate of service. Wright, 238 F.3d 418; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(d), Advisory Committee Notes, 1991 amendment (stating that certificates of service are required to be on file because they “may be useful for many purposes, including proof of service if an issue arises concerning the effectiveness of the service”);[3] In re Eagle Bus. Mfg., Inc., 62 F.3d 730, 735-36 (5th Cir. 1995) (“To determine if a mailing was accomplished the courts may consider whether the notice was correctly addressed, whether proper postage was affixed, whether it was properly mailed, and whether a proper certificate of service was filed.”); 4B Charles Alan Wright, et al., Fed'l Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1150 (4th Ed. 2018) (approving of allowing the certificate of service to constitute sufficient proof of service because that approach “avoid[s] delayed challenges to service and frivolous appeals….”). Defendants represent that they provided Plaintiff with supplemental discovery that resolves requests 1, 2, 3, 6 and 11. Defendants have filed a copy of the Second Supplemental Responses to Plaintiff's Request for Production of Documents that includes a Certificate of Service verifying that the supplemental discovery response was mailed to Plaintiff at his BOP register number and address in Coleman, Florida. (Doc. No. 29-3 at 5). Plaintiff has produced no evidence other than his assertion of non-receipt of the Second Supplemental Responses to Plaintiff's Request for Production of Documents. As noted above, however, non-receipt does not affect the validity of service under Rule 5(b). Plaintiff is thus presumed to have received the supplemental discovery and his Motion to Compel with regards to requests 1, 2, 3, 6 and 11 will be denied.

         Second, the Motion to Compel will be denied with regards to requests 7 and 13 because they are not relevant to Plaintiff's claims. Request 7 seeks “all phone conversations the plaintiff engaged in during his detention at Mecklenburg County Jail….” (Doc. No. 25-1 at 3). Request 13 seeks “archives of communications between GlobalTel link customer service and employees at the Mecklenburg County Jail during the period of plaintiff's detention….” (Doc. No. 25-1 at 4). Defendants objected to requests 7 and 13 because the lawsuit concerns alleged violations of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights and his phone conversations are not relevant to any claim or defense. (Doc. No. 25-2 at 3-4). To the extent that Plaintiff suggests that either of these ...


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