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Tarlton v. Cumberland County Correctional Facility

April 10, 2000

JOSEPH TARLTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States Magistrate Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

CAMDEN VICINAGE

HONORABLE JOEL A. PISANO

OPINION

This matter arises from a simple discovery dispute regarding the defendants' production of documents. The parties have spent a total of more than seventy-five pages briefing this particular dispute, the majority of which contain inflammatory accusations of misconduct and disparaging personal remarks against the opposing lawyers. This type of litigation exercise, for which both parties are at fault, is wholly unprofessional, contrary to the Guidelines for Litigation Conduct adopted by this court (see Local Civ. R. 103.1), and a complete waste of the court's time. For that reason, the parties are hereby instructed that any briefs in support of future non-dispositive pretrial motions shall be limited to ten pages in length, except by leave of court, and shall be devoid of personal attacks and accusations.

This action was filed on September 28, 1998. Defendants produced the documents at issue, which are unquestionably relevant, over fifteen months later, after a significant number of depositions and other discovery had already been completed. Because the court finds that the defendants had an obligation to identify the documents at issue at the outset of this litigation in their Rule 26(a) disclosures, and that their failure to do necessitated the very discovery delays and battles that Rule 26(a) was specifically designed to prevent, the court will grant plaintiffs' motion for sanctions and deny defendants' cross-motion for sanctions.

I. FACTUAL and PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Joseph Tarlton filed this action against Bayside State Prison and other prisons, along with various prison officials, claiming that defendants violated his constitutional rights during the time that he was incarcerated. According to the Third Amended Complaint, defendant Correctional Medical Services, Inc. ("CMS") allegedly was a healthcare provider for Bayside State Prison, and defendants Mark Lashley and James Neal, M.D., were employees and/or agents of CMS or Bayside State Prison. Plaintiff asserts that defendant Dr. Neal is the statewide medical director for CMS with approval authority over medical treatment for prisoners within the state of New Jersey, including Joseph Tarlton during the events giving rise to this action. With respect to these defendants [collectively referred to as "the CMS defendants"], plaintiff claims, inter alia, that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs while he was incarcerated at Bayside State Prison.

The nature of discovery disputes brought to the court's attention by way of telephone conference call and motion indicate that the pretrial process has been somewhat acrimonious. This particular dispute involves the production of documents by the CMS defendants. According to plaintiff's motion for sanctions, the CMS defendants did not produce Rule 26(a) disclosures. Plaintiff moved to compel these disclosures, and, in response, defendants answered interrogatories and document requests that plaintiff had served three months before. Included within those requests had been a request for all medical documentation regarding plaintiff Joseph Tarlton. A telephone conference call was held with this court. Based upon the CMS defendants' representation that they had produced all the information that they had, and upon their agreement to provide certain other documents, the plaintiff's motion to compel was denied. (See Order 3/2/99).

At some point after that, plaintiff's counsel learned that medical consultation requests and recommendations were often noted on form cover sheets that accompanied prisoners' medical records. According to plaintiff, while the CMS defendants had produced medical records relevant to Joseph Tarlton, they had not included any cover sheets along with those records.

During the deposition of defendant Dr. James Neal, he identified the cover sheets as "a form that we use for internal tracking of consults." (Neal Dep. at 63, Pl. Ex. "D"). He stated that his office did not have a policy to retain the cover sheets from 1996 through 1998, but the information from the cover sheets was input into the computer and included in a data base reflecting the medical record of each patient. (Id., at 63-66). He stated that the cover sheets were faxed back to the individual sites and that he had no knowledge of what the individuals at each site did with the cover sheets. (Id.). Plaintiff requested these cover sheets be produced at the continuation of Dr. Neal's deposition, and the parties agreed that the production of the cover sheets would be limited to those involving Joseph Tarlton. According to plaintiff, defendants instead produced a computer print-out of medical information relating to Joseph Tarlton.

Plaintiff soon thereafter deposed defendant Mark Lashley, who was the Director of Administrative Services for CMS. Mr. Lashley also testified that CMS did not routinely maintain the cover sheets. (Lashley Dep., at 25-26, Pl. Ex. "G").

Plaintiff then conducted the depositions of two former CMS employees, Kristen Powell and Robert Galloway, who were scheduling and filing clerks with CMS during the relevant time period. Ms. Powell testified that she filed the cover sheets and consult forms, once they had been completed by Dr. Neal, in filing cabinets in the CMS offices. (Powell Dep., at 52-53, Pl. Ex. "H"). Mr. Galloway testified that completed cover sheets were filed in archived boxes for years other than the current year, and that the documents were alphabetized by inmate name and the boxes labeled by year. (Galloway Dep., at 88-90, Pl. Ex. "I").

Following this testimony, plaintiff's counsel sought access to the storage boxes at the CMS facility and again asked for the court's assistance. In response, defense counsel produced three previously unproduced cover sheets and represented to the court that "that the fax cover sheets which have been retained have been presented to [plaintiff's counsel]." (Pl. Ex. "M"). Defense counsel further objected to plaintiff's counsel request to examine the storage boxes at the CMS facility and noted that the "consultation cover sheets are stored in boxes containing hundreds of additional patient information for other patients and, therefore, it would be a violation of patient confidentiality to allow such an inspection." (Id.). Defense ...


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