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Peters v. Cox

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 22, 2018

GREG COX et al., Defendants.


          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge

         This is a prisoner civil rights case. Pending before the Court is an objection to three rulings of the Magistrate Judge.


         Plaintiff Richard Peters, a prisoner in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections (“NDOC”), sued Defendants in this Court based on Defendant Gayleen Fukajama having allegedly pulled a medical device off of Plaintiff's arm, causing him pain and injury. The Court dismissed the other Defendants upon screening but permitted an Eighth Amendment claim to proceed against Fukajama. Mediation was unsuccessful. The Court denied a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment based on non-exhaustion of administrative remedies and qualified immunity. Plaintiff has objected to the Magistrate Judge's rulings: (1) granting a non-party's motion to quash a subpoena; (2) denying Plaintiff's motion for sanctions; and (3) granting Defendants an extension of time to file a motion for summary judgment.


         Rule 72(a) permits a district court judge to modify or set aside a magistrate judge's non-dispositive ruling that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law:

When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to. The district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); see also Local R. IB 3-1(a). Rule 72(a) institutes an abuse of discretion standard. See Grimes v. City and Cnty. of S.F., 951 F.2d 236, 241 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing United States v. BNS Inc., 858 F.2d 456, 464 (9th Cir. 1988) (“We still must determine, however, whether the court abused its discretion in issuing its order based on the facts before it which are supported by the record. Under the abuse of discretion standard, we cannot simply substitute our judgment for that of the district court, but must be left with the definite and firm conviction that the court committed a clear error of judgment in reaching its conclusion after weighing the relevant factors.”)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Motion to Quash

         On November 9, 2017, non-party NDOC received a subpoena from Plaintiff's counsel by certified mail commanding an unspecified NDOC representative to appear for a deposition on November 20 (the final day of discovery under the Scheduling Order). NDOC moved to quash the subpoena under Rule 45(d)(3), arguing that subpoenas to non-parties must be personally served. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(b)(1) (“Serving a subpoena requires delivering a copy to the named person . . . .”). On January 12, 2018, the Magistrate Judge granted the motion because “there are so many problems with the subpoena and the deposition . . . .” (Hr'g 11:18, Jan. 12, 2018). Plaintiff has objected to that ruling.

         The authority on whether “delivering a copy to the named person” permits service by mail is mixed. Compare, e.g., Parker v. Doe, No. Civ. A. 02-7215, 2002 WL 32107939, at *2 (E.D. Penn. Nov. 21, 2002) (agreeing with the majority rule that a non-party cannot be served by mail under Rule 45(b)(1)), with, e.g., Hall v. Sullivan, 229 F.R.D. 501, 503-04 (D. Md. 2005) (noting that personal service is the majority rule but finding the cases following the minority rule to be better reasoned). There being no published authority on the question in this Circuit, and the text of Rule 45(b)(1) being ambiguous on the question, the Court cannot say that the Magistrate Judge ruled contrary to law or in clear error by quashing a subpoena to a non-party that was indisputably not personally served. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).

         B. The Motion for Sanctions

         On December 4, 2017, Plaintiff asked the Magistrate Judge to sanction Defendants under Rule 37 or the Court's inherent authority. Plaintiff claims a video of the incident at issue existed but that NDOC destroyed it. Plaintiff therefore asked the Magistrate Judge “for a conclusive presumption that the attack by the defendant was malicious and oppressive, done with a reckless disregard of the near certain consequences and that the attack was the cause of the loss of internal fixation (working the screws loose) and the subsequent surgery.” The Magistrate Judge did not err in denying that motion. Indeed, granting the motion would have been contrary to law, because a defendant cannot be sanctioned for the acts of a person over which she has no authority or control, and Plaintiff made no showing that Fukajama was involved in or had any authority over those involved in the alleged destruction of the video. “‘[S]poliation of evidence may be imputed to a [party] who did not participate in the spoliation' only where the destroying party is the ‘agent' of that party.” Gemsa ...

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