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Geno A. Locascio v. Karren Balicki

December 23, 2010


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



Plaintiff is a prisoner currently incarcerated at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey. He asserts various claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights during his incarceration. This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Plaintiff's motion under Rule 72(a) objecting to a nondispositive Order entered by Magistrate Judge Donio on April 30, 2010 (Doc. No. 80). Specifically, Plaintiff appeals Judge Donio's rulings: (1) denying Plaintiff's request for court-appointed expert witnesses; and (2) denying Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, the Court affirms Judge Donio's rulings.


Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment because Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his conditions of confinement. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants ignored his complaints regarding the prison's alleged denial and destruction of his incoming mail, racial discrimination, threats of bodily harm, and deprivation of religious, educational, and legal literature. Plaintiff also alleges that certain correction officers assaulted and otherwise harassed him. Plaintiff represents himself in this matter, and the Court previously granted his application to proceed in forma pauperis.

As relevant to this motion, Plaintiff claims that he served defense counsel with interrogatories and document requests on June 6, 2008. Sometime after March 2009, Defendants produced approximately 2,000 pages of documents and raised various objections to Plaintiff's requests. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' discovery responses were improper because: (1) Defendants waived their right to object to Plaintiff's requests because they did not timely respond; (2) Defendants improperly asserted the attorney work-product doctrine and attorney-client privilege; and (3) Defendants failed to identify by Bates number documents responsive to each request. Defendants did not file formal opposition to Plaintiff's motion, but submitted a letter stating that they provided all responsive discovery. On April 30, 2010, Judge Donio denied Plaintiff's motion because Plaintiff did not comply with Rule 37, which requires that a party submit an affidavit describing his good faith efforts to resolve any discovery disputes before seeking the Court's intervention.

Regarding Plaintiff's motion for court-appointed experts, Plaintiff argues that medical and psychiatric experts are "essential" to his claims. He asserts that the requested experts will review his medical and psychiatric history and report their findings. He claims that this testimony is necessary to prove the extent of his psychological damages. He asks the Court to appoint experts pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 706. Judge Donio denied Plaintiff's request because: (1) it was not clear that Plaintiff's claims required expert testimony at this stage in the litigation; and (2) Rule 706 "allows only for appointment of an expert to aid the Court, and not for the purpose of aiding an indigent litigant." (Order dated April 30, 2010, Doc. No. 80, at 5 (quoting Kerwin v. Varner, No. 03-2253, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90691, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 2006)).

On July 16, 2010, Judge Donio granted Plaintiff an extension of time to file objections to her April 30, 2010 rulings. Plaintiff timely made the instant motion objecting to Judge Donio's rulings. Plaintiff argues that Judge Donio's ruling regarding his motion to compel discovery was in error because Plaintiff sent Defendants various letters complaining about their deficient discovery before moving to compel. Plaintiff argues that those letters satisfy Rule 37's certification requirement.

Plaintiff makes three arguments regarding Judge Donio's refusal to appoint experts. First, Plaintiff argues that Judge Donio failed to apply the law with the leniency required when a plaintiff represents himself. Second, Plaintiff argues that expert testimony is necessary in this case to prove his damages. He claims that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of Defendants' misconduct and that expert testimony is necessary to prove this claim. Third, Plaintiff claims that Judge Donio improperly found that Plaintiff's request for an expert was premature because operative scheduling orders require Plaintiff to identify his expert for purposes of trial.


A district court will overturn a magistrate judge's nondispositive ruling only if it is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(a)(1)(A). Rulings on discovery motions are considered nondispositive matters subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review. See Jackson v. Chubb Corp., 45 Fed. App'x. 163, 166 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002). A magistrate judge's rulings regarding expert discovery are nondispositive matters subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review. See Nat'l Grp. Comm. v. Lucent Tech., 331 F. Supp. 2d 290, 292 (D.N.J. 2004) (ordering expert report regarding complex issue); Inter-City Tire & Auto Ctr. v. Uniroyal, Inc., 701 F. Supp. 1120, 1122 (D.N.J. 1988).

A magistrate judge's factual conclusion is "clearly erroneous" when, "although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing Court . . . is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948); S. Seas Catamaran, Inc. v. Motor Vessel Leeway, 120 F.R.D. 17, 21 (D.N.J. 1988), aff'd, 993 F.2d 878 (3d Cir. 1993). The party filing the appeal has the burden of demonstrating that the magistrate judge's decision was clearly erroneous. Exxon Corp. v. Halcon Shipping Co., 156 F.R.D. 589, 591 (D.N.J. 1994). Unless that burden is met, the magistrate judge's findings should not be rejected even if the district court could have decided the matter differently. See Andrews v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 191 F.R.D. 59, 68 (D.N.J. 2000) (a district court's "simple disagreement with the magistrate judge's findings is insufficient to meet the clearly erroneous standard of review"); Toth v. Alice Pearl, Inc., 158 F.R.D. 47, 50 (D.N.J. 1994). Moreover, there is particularly broad deference given to a magistrate judge's discovery rulings, especially when the magistrate judge has managed the case from the outset and developed a thorough knowledge of the proceedings. See Engers v. AT&T Corp., No. 98-3660, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23028, at *1-2 (D.N.J. Apr. 17, 2006) (citing Lithuanian Commerce Corp., Ltd v. Sara Lee Hosiery, 177 F.R.D. 205, 214 (D.N.J. 1997)) (citations omitted); Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell v. Allied Irish Bank, P.L.C., No. 03-3078, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17032, at *1 (D.N.J. Aug. 10, 2005).

Nevertheless, a district court reviews de novo a magistrate judge's legal conclusions on a nondispositive motion. See Haines v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992). A ruling is "contrary to law" when the magistrate judge has "misinterpreted or misapplied the applicable law." Doe v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 237 F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006) (citing ...

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