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Ford v. Sessoms

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

October 21, 2016

DR. TONEY FORD, SR., Plaintiff,
DEREK SESSOMS, in his individual and official capacity, et al., Defendants.


          Susan Collins, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action are two motions to compel (DE 67; DE 74) filed by pro se Plaintiff Dr. Toney Ford, Sr. (“Ford”), asking that the Court order Defendant Derrick Sessoms to more completely answer his initial set of interrogatories (DE 52; DE 65) and to fully respond to his initial request for production of documents (DE 53; DE 66). Sessoms timely filed a response in opposition to Ford's motion (DE 85); Ford, however, has not filed a reply brief, and his time to do so has now passed. Accordingly, the motion is now ripe for ruling.

         For the following reasons, Ford's motions to compel will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In October 2014, Ford filed this § 1983 case against Sessoms, a police officer for the City of Marion, Indiana, in both his individual and official capacities, advancing various civil rights violations based on Sessoms's purported harassment, arrest, and detention of Ford on or about September 23, 2013. (DE 1; DE 3 at 3-4; DE 38). Ford also sued a host of other Defendants associated with the City of Marion, but after screening his complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, only one claim remained-Ford's assertion that Sessoms, in both his individual and official capacities, violated Ford's equal protection rights by discriminating against him on the basis of his race and nationality through harassing, arresting, and detaining him. (DE 3 at 3).

         On April 6, 2015, Sessoms filed a motion to dismiss (DE 19), which the District Judge subsequently granted as to Ford's claims stemming from detention, but denied as to his claims (both in his individual and official capacities) stemming from harassment and arrest (DE 37).

         The Court conducted a preliminary pretrial conference on February 26, 2016, setting a discovery deadline of September 10, 2016. (DE 46). Discovery ensued, and the discovery deadline was subsequently extended to October 24, 2016. (DE 64). On August 4, 2016, Sessoms produced his answers and responses to Ford's initial set of interrogatories and initial request for production of documents. (DE 65; DE 66). Several days later, Ford filed the instant motions to compel. (DE 67; DE 74).

         II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) provides:
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.

         “For discovery purposes, relevance is construed broadly to encompass ‘any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter[s] that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.'” Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill. v. Micron Tech., Inc., No. 2:11-cv-02288-SLD-JEH, 2016 WL 4132182, at *2 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 3, 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting Chavez v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 206 F.R.D. 615, 519 (S.D. Ind. 2002)). Information within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         “The party opposing discovery has the burden of proving that the requested discovery should be disallowed.” Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 2016 WL 4132182, at *2 (citations omitted). “The objecting party must do more than simply recite boilerplate objections such as overbroad, burdensome, oppressive or irrelevant.” Id. (citations omitted). “If the basis for an objection is lack of relevance, the party resisting the discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevance by demonstrating that the requested discovery is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “District courts have broad discretion in matters relating to discovery.” Id. (citing Brown-Bey v. United States, 720 F.2d 467, 470-71 (7th Cir. 1983)).

         III. Discussion

         Ford contends that Sessoms failed to completely answer Interrogatory Nos. 10, 11, 12, 20, 22, and 23, and failed to fully respond to Request for Production Nos. 4, 8, 9, and 11. The Court will discuss each of these discovery requests in turn.

         A. Interrogatory No. 10

Ford's Interrogatory No. 10 reads as follows:
Please describe [fully] your knowledge of all applicable Federal, State, County and/or Municipal laws, regulations, ordinances and or policies regarding traffic stops, motor vehicle incidents, motor vehicle accidents, lawful stops, unlawful stops, public policy and City of Marion (IN) internal policies and protocols, public liability as well as all other controlling authorities regarding your and Marion (IN) Police Department's relationship and accompanying responsibilities in reference to incidents similar to the above- named incident on or about September 23, 2013, and continuing through this Dated:

(DE 52 at 10 (brackets in original)). Sessoms objects to the form of this Interrogatory-an open-ended question seeking a description of his full knowledge in several broad areas-asserting that it is impossible to answer without a lengthy dissertation, and that as such, it is overly burdensome and oppressive, and the burden and expense of preparing a complete answer outweighs any likely benefit. (DE 65 at 5). In response, Ford asserts that it is “fair game” to inquire into Sessoms's “actual understanding” and “knowledge” of the laws that may have informed his decision-making regarding the arrest. (DE 57 at 2).

         The Court finds Sessoms's objections have merit. The Interrogatory as written is overly broad in scope and too confusing for the Court to compel a response. “If plaintiff wants information from defendant[], he must ask simple questions that are clear to the reader and can be answered with simple responses.” Shelley v. Hoenisch, No. 08-cv-107-bbc, 2008 WL 2489927, at *2 (W.D. Wis. June 19, 2008). Accordingly, Ford's motion to compel is DENIED with respect to Interrogatory No. 10.

         B. ...

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