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Hunter v. Parnell

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

November 30, 2018




          Lanny King, United States District Court Magistrate Judge

         Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Lanny King for ruling on all discovery motions. (Docket # 28). Plaintiff, Michael Hunter, filed a Response in Reference to Objections and requests that the Court compel Defendant Daniel Thomas to provide responses to written discovery. (Docket # 47). Defendant Thomas filed a Response to Plaintiff's Motion, which treats the document as a motion to compel. (Docket # 52). For the reasons detailed below, Plaintiff's Motion is granted in part and denied in part. (Docket # 47).


         Plaintiff is a convicted inmate currently housed at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. His Amended Complaint concerns incidents occurring while he was housed at the Fulton County Jail.

         Plaintiff alleges that while he was an inmate in Fulton County Jail, Defendant Thomas and Defendant Ricky Parnell provided him with tobacco, a cellphone, and other various contraband. (Docket # 26). In June 2016, Plaintiff obtained a body cam and recorded the actions of Defendant Thomas and Defendant Parnell. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that after Defendant Thomas learned that he had been recorded on Plaintiff's bodycam, he called Plaintiff into his office, held a loaded gun to his head, and threatened to kill Plaintiff if he told anyone about his activities. (Id.).

         Defendant Thomas denies and/or asserts that he is without knowledge or information for most of the allegations. (Docket # 29). However, Defendant Thomas admits that Plaintiff obtained a body camera and asserts that he is without knowledge or information to confirm that Plaintiff recorded the actions of Defendant Parnell and himself. (Id.). Plaintiff brought suit against the Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment[1], the Fourteenth Amendment[2], Section 17 of the Kentucky Constitution[3], Kentucky Revised Statute (“KRS”) 71.020[4], KRS 71.040[5], KRS 71.060[6], and KRS 441.025[7]. (Docket # 26). Plaintiff has served and Defendant Thomas has responded to formal interrogatories. (Docket # 52-1).

         Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 provides enforcement mechanisms for Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33 and 34. According to Rule 37, if a party does not respond to an interrogatory or to a request for production, the party requesting the discovery may move the court to compel the opposing party to respond. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(2)(B). An evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response is to be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3). A motion to compel may only be made if the non-moving party failed to answer or respond to a proper discovery request. Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) is the touchstone for the scope of civil discovery. Pogue v. NorthWestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., No. 3:14-CV-598-CRS, 2017 WL 3044763, at *4 (W.D. Ky. July 18, 2017). Rule 26(b)(1) provides that “[p]arties 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…Information within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Actions alleging violations of § 1983 require especially broad discovery. Lamarr v. Jackson, 3:14-CV-32, 2015 WL 2401390, at *1 (N.D. W.Va. May 20, 2015) (citations omitted); see also Inmates of Unit 14 v. Rebideau, 102 F.R.D. 122, 128 (N.D.N.Y.1984) (“Federal policy favors broad discovery in civil rights actions.”). The Court has wide discretion when dealing with discovery matters, including whether information might be relevant. Pogue, No. 3:14-CV-598-CRS, 2017 WL 3044763, at *5.

         Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, and 10

         Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, and 10 request personal financial information, such as tax records W-2 for 2015 through 2016 (Interrogatory No. 2), records showing property owned and any and all debts (Interrogatory No. 5), and proof of filings for bankruptcy (Interrogatory No. 10). (Docket # 52-1). Defendant Thomas objected to these requests as not relevant or reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. (Id.). Plaintiff argues that Defendant Thomas' tax information is relevant to confirm that certain conversations occurred between Plaintiff and Defendant Thomas regarding Defendant Thomas' financial distress, and to show that Defendant Thomas is earning income from another job/employment. (Docket # 47). Furthermore, Plaintiff argues that any proof of bankruptcy will support his claim that Defendant Thomas told Plaintiff that without more income, he could not pay his bills. Defendant Thomas emphasizes that he was a guard when Plaintiff was an inmate, and that Plaintiff's claims focus on Defendant Thomas and other inmates threatening and assaulting him. (Docket # 52). Defendant Thomas asserts that inmates constantly make these sorts of allegations against jail guards and corrections officers, and that if an inmate gains access to a guard's financial information every time he claims abuse, it would open every prison guard to harassment and potentially blackmail from the inmate who gained the information. (Id.). Defendant Thomas contends that the benefit, if any, of allowing an inmate to have his tax returns is outweighed by the risks of an inmate being given a window into his own guard's sensitive financial information. (Id.).

         Although there is no federal common law privilege akin to the right of privacy, federal courts generally treat financial information as private. Del Campo v. Am. Corrective Counseling Servs., Inc., 2008 WL 2038047, at *5 (N.D. Cal. May 9, 2008) (citations omitted); Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 616 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (“Federal courts ordinarily recognize a constitutionally-based right of privacy that can be raised in response to discovery requests.”)).

         Additionally, “[i]t is well-settled in the Sixth Circuit that tax returns are not privileged from disclosure.” Queen v. City of Bowling Green, No. 1:16CV-00131-JHM, 2017 WL 4355689, at *7 (W.D. Ky. Sep. 28, 2017) (citations omitted). However, a judicial consensus exists that, as a matter of public policy, caution should be exercised in ordering the disclosure of tax returns. Id. (citations omitted). Therefore, the appropriate analysis is whether the tax returns are relevant to the claim or defense of any party. U ...

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