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Banks v. Patton

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 10, 2016

TARENCE BANKS, Plaintiff,
v.
LESLIE PATTON, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER DENYING THE PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO DETERMINE THE SUFFICIENCY OF ANSWERS OR OBJECTIONS TO ADMISSIONS (DKT. NO. 116) AND MOTION TO COMPEL (DKT. NO. 143)

          HON. PAMELA PEPPER United States District Judge

         On December 15, 2015, the plaintiff, who is representing himself, filed a motion to determine the sufficiency of answers or objections to requests to admit that he had served upon defendants Barker, Friend, Gonzales, Koldeway, Ledezma, Moran, Noonan, Evans, Schmaling and Wearing (collectively referred to as the Jail Defendants). Dkt. No. 115. The Jail Defendants responded to the motion on December 23, 2015 (Dkt. No. 121), and the plaintiff replied in support of his motion on January 4, 2016 (Dkt. No. 125).

         On January 5, 2016, the court scheduled a hearing for January 20, 2016, to address, among other things, the plaintiff’s motion. Prior to the hearing, the Jail Defendants indicated that they would be willing to mediate the case (Dkt. No. 127), so on January 12, 2016, the court referred the part of the case involving the Jail Defendants to a magistrate judge for mediation. The hearing proceeded as scheduled on January 20. At the hearing, the plaintiff and the Jail Defendants agreed that the court should delay addressing the plaintiff’s motion in light of the scheduled mediation.

         On March 7, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion to compel against defendant Gone (who is not one of the Jail Defendants) (Dkt. No. 143); on March 21, 2016, the Jail Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 146); and also on March 21, 2016, the other set of defendants (collectively referred to as the Medical Defendants) filed a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 152). All of these motions are fully briefed and ready for the court’s decision.

         On April 4, 2016, Magistrate Judge William Callahan notified the court that he had cancelled the mediation. Dkt. No. 166. He explained that, after consulting with the parties, he had determined that, given the current posture of the case, a mediation would be an exercise in futility and a waste of resources. Id.

         The court began to evaluate the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, and noted that both sets of defendants argued that the plaintiff’s lawsuit must be dismissed because he had failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies before filing his lawsuit, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. On August 2, 2016, the court held an evidentiary hearing to examine whether the defendants’ arguments had any merit.

         In order to streamline this case, the court will address the plaintiff’s December 15, 2015 motion to determine sufficiency (Dkt. No. 116) and the plaintiff’s March 7, 2016 motion to compel (Dkt. No. 143). The court will issue a separate order containing its decision on the exhaustion issue and, if necessary, the motions for summary judgment.

         I. The Plaintiff’s Motion to Determine the Sufficiency of Answers or Objections to Admissions

         In his brief in support of the motion to determine sufficiency, the plaintiff concedes that the Jail Defendants provided responses to his requests for admissions. Dkt. No. 117 at 1. He first argues that the court ought to deem all of the requests he filed with the court at Dkt. No. 75 as admitted because he received them thirty-one days after he propounded his request, when the Jail Defendants were required to provide their responses within thirty days. Id. at 12. Second, he goes through, in detail, the responses he received to other requests, and argues that the court should deem those requests admitted because he believes they did not respond to the questions he asked, or that they are evasive, or that they misstate facts, or that they were not made in good faith. In all, he took issue with thirty-seven of the Jail Defendants’ responses.

         The Jail Defendants responded that their discovery responses were timely (they argue that the plaintiff miscalculated the thirty-day deadline); that the plaintiff never attempted to confer with them about the sufficiency of their responses before filing his motion; and that every one of their responses met the standards laid out in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 121.

         The plaintiff replied that he wasn’t required to try to work things out with the defendants before filing his motion, because he hadn’t filed a motion to compel. Dkt. No. 125. He reiterated that the responses to Dkt. No. 75 were untimely. And he reiterated his arguments as to why some of the responses were, in his view, unacceptable.

         Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(a), which is entitled “Motion for an Order Compelling Disclosure or Discovery, ” discusses the different kinds of motions that a person could file relating to discovery disputes. Rule 37(1)(3) discusses motions to compel a party to turn over Rule 26(a) initial disclosures that it failed to provide; motions to compel an answer, designation, production or inspection of discovery; motions to deal with evasive or incomplete disclosures, answers or responses. The rule makes clear that “an evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer or respond.” Rule 37(a)(4). Rule 37(a) mandates that along with any of those kinds of motions, the party must file 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.” Civil Local Rule 37 requires that all motions to compel disclosure or discovery pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26 through 37 be accompanied by a written certification from the movant that he has, in good faith, unsuccessfully attempted to confer with the opposing party in order to resolve the discovery dispute without the court’s involvement.

         It does not matter what title the plaintiff puts on the top of his motion; the fact that he did not call it a motion to compel is irrelevant. When one reads the motion, it is clear that the plaintiff is asking the court to impose a sanction against the Jail Defendants for failing to comply with the discovery rules. Deeming requests admitted-even when they were not-is a sanction. The point of Rule 37(a) is to make sure that when any discovery dispute arises, a party’s first step is to try to resolve the dispute with the other party. The rule does allow a court to impose sanctions on a party who deliberately fails to comply with the rules, but it doesn’t allow the court to impose those sanctions until the party has first tried to work things out with the other side.

         So-the plaintiff was required to comply with both the national and the local versions of Rule 37 before ...


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