United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
DEMAJIO J. ELLIS, Plaintiff,
SERGEANT BURRIS, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
E. MARTIN MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff [sic] Motion to
Compel Discovery [DE 69], filed by Plaintiff Demajio Ellis,
pro se, and received by the Court on January 8,
2019. Plaintiff seeks to compel Defendants to produce
documents and video in response to his discovery requests.
Defendants responded on January 22, 2019.
a former inmate at Westville Correctional Facility, filed an
Amended Complaint alleging as follows: On January 12, 2016,
toilets in certain cells began flooding when another inmate
flushed clothes down a toilet. Plaintiff alleges that his own
cell started to “overflow and flood” with
“feces, urine, and sewage water.” Twenty minutes
later, Plaintiff's own toilet and water were shut off.
Plaintiff alleges that the prison officers refused to clean
his cell or move him to a more sanitary area for
approximately six hours. After six hours, Plaintiff was
temporarily removed from his flooded cell. When he was
returned to his cell, the water had been restored, but he was
forced to use his own commissary items to clean his cell, and
he was denied a shower until the afternoon of January 13,
2019, roughly 18 hours after the incident began. Plaintiff
argues that his right foot became swollen “due to the
contaminated water, ” and that the conditions
constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of his
Eighth Amendment rights. Plaintiff has now filed a motion to
compel Defendants to produce documents and video in response
to his discovery requests.
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).
Relevance is “construed broadly to encompass any matter
that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter
that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the
case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437
U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (citing Hickman v. Taylor, 329
U.S. 495, 501 (1947)). A party objecting to the discovery
request bears the burden of “show[ing] why [that]
particular discovery request is improper.” McGrath
v. Everest Nat. Ins. Co., 625 F.Supp.2d 660, 670 (N.D.
Ind. 2008). The Court has broad discretion when deciding
discovery matters. Thermal Design, Inc. v. Am. Soc'y
of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Eng'rs,
Inc., 755 F.3d 832, 837 (7th Cir. 2014); Rennie v.
Dalton, 3 F.3d 1100, 1110 (7th Cir. 1993)).
seeks to compel additional responses to three of his requests
for production. In “Request 1, ” Plaintiff
requests “[a]ll downstairs video camera footages on
both ranges where inmates' cells were flooded on B-Pod 5
Range and 7 Range camera footages.” Defendants objected
to this request as overly broad, unduly burdensome, and
seeking irrelevant information, noting that Plaintiff did not
specify a time frame for the video footage. They also
objected that the release of the requested video could
compromise the security of the prison.
Court agrees that the request is overbroad, and that it would
be unduly burdensome for Defendants to produce
“all” footage of B-Pod 5 and 7 Ranges (where
Plaintiff alleges that approximately 12 inmates' toilets
were flooded). However, any video showing Plaintiff's own
cell during the time Plaintiff alleges it was flooded would
be relevant to his claims that he was held in unsanitary
also objected that the requested video “would reveal
potential blind spots in the prison dorm's security
system.” Prison employees enjoy considerable, though
not boundless, discretion in determining whether the release
of video threatens prison security. See, e.g.,
Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 679 (7th Cir. 2003)
(finding that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has
“never approved of a blanket policy of keeping
confidential security camera videotapes for safety
reasons”; there must be a “legitimate security
reason”). Given the limited scope of the video
contemplated in this order, a general objection referencing
“potential blind spots” is not sufficient.
Hall v. Spears, No. 17-CV-749-BBC, 2018 WL 3238651,
at *1 (W.D. Wis. July 2, 2018) (“[r]eliance on  such
vague security concerns is not enough” to establish an
“actual security risk”); Thomas v.
Reese, No. 13-CV-597-WMC, 2015 WL 7776609, at *2 (W.D.
Wis. Dec. 2, 2015) (requiring in camera review of
video where jail officials' assertion that “there
may be blind spots in camera coverage” did not
establish a security risk). Defendants must either produce
any video showing Plaintiff's own cell during the time he
alleges it was flooded, or explain why Defendants'
security concerns outweigh the video's relevance in this
suit, as described below.
in Request 2, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ny and all policies,
procedures, manuals, and documents on biohazard situations as
described in this complaint.” Defendants initially
objected to this request as overly broad, vague, and
argumentative, and to the term “biohazard
situations” as unclear. In his motion to compel,
Plaintiff clarifies that the “biohazard
situations” referenced in the request include
“the flooding of feces, urin[e], and sewage
water.” Defendants agreed to supplement their response
to reflect Plaintiff's clarification. The Court notes
that the supplementation should include any policies,
produces and manuals indicating how the prison would address
the overflow of sewage into an inmate's cell.
in Request 5, Plaintiff seeks “[n]ame[s] of all
maintenance workers that fixed the water situation in the
complaint.” Defendants objected to the request as
vague, overbroad, unduly burdensome, and seeking irrelevant
information. Defendants also objected that no such document
exists, and they had no duty to create it. Plaintiff's
request should have been styled as an interrogatory, not a
request for production. However, a pro se
plaintiff's filings should be “liberally construed,
” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007),
and legitimate requests for discoverable information should
not be ignored for technical reasons. See Wilson v.
Weisner, 43 Fed.Appx. 982, 986 (7th Cir. 2002) (holding
that a pro se plaintiff's discovery requests
“should be held to less exacting standards”)
(citing Hudson v. McHugh, 148 F.3d 859, 864 (7th
Cir. 1998) (“The essence of liberal construction is to
give the pro se plaintiff a break when, although he stumbles
on a technicality, his pleading is otherwise
case, the individuals who fixed the toilets are witnesses who
may themselves have discoverable information; Defendants
continually referenced these maintenance workers in their own
discovery responses. See, e.g., Defendants'
Responses to Interrogatories [DE 63-1 at 1]
(“maintenance was notified”), [DE 63-1 at 4]
(“maintenance had fixed the issue”), [DE 63-2 at
3] (“Maintenance was contacted”). To the extent
Defendants have a legitimate objection to identifying the
people who fixed the malfunction that is the subject of
Plaintiff's complaint, it is not discernible from the
objections listed in their responses. Accordingly, Defendants
should produce the names of the maintenance workers.
reasons described above, the Court GRANTS in part and
DENIES in part Plaintiff [sic] Motion to ...