United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
KEVIN H. SHARP, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Omowale Ashanti Shabazz, also known as Fred Dean, is a state prisoner presently incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex ("NWCX") in Tiptonville, Tennessee. He pursues this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against numerous state and prison officials for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. After this Court's initial review, the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Cliff Knowles for management of the case, decisions on all pretrial, non-dispositive motions, and entry of recommendations as to the disposition of any dispositive motions, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 626(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Now before the Court are the plaintiff's objections to a number of dispositive and non-dispositive rulings by Magistrate Judge Knowles, including the plaintiff's "Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Citing Objections to the Magistrate's Order" (ECF No. 38) (objecting to the order at ECF No. 35); "Motion for Review of Objections to the Magistrate's Order (D.E. 332)" (ECF No. 346); "Motion for Review of Objections to the Magistrate's Order (D.E. 327)" (ECF No. 347); "Motion for Review of Objections to the Magistrate's Order (D.E. 337)" (ECF No. 348); "Motion for Review of Objections to the Magistrate's Order (D.E. 338)" (ECF No. 350); "Motion for Review of Objections to the Magistrate's Order (D.E. 336)" (ECF No. 351); "Objections and Motion for Review of the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation D.E. 379" (ECF No. 389); and "Objections and Motion for Review of the Magistrate's Order at D.E. 380" (ECF No. 390). The Court's ruling on each of these objections is set forth below.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The standard of review applicable to a party's objections to a magistrate judge's ruling depends upon whether the objections pertain to a dispositive or non-dispositive matter. If the issue is dispositive, any party may, within fourteen days after being served with a magistrate judge's recommended disposition, "serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). The district court must review de novo any portion of the report and recommendation to which objections are "properly" lodged. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) & (C). An objection is "properly" made if it is sufficiently specific to "enable the district judge to focus attention on those issues-factual and legal-that are at the heart of the parties' dispute." Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985). "The filing of vague, general, or conclusory objections does not meet the requirement of specific objections and is tantamount to a complete failure to object." Cole v. Yukins, 7 F.Appx. 354, 356 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995)).
A party may also file objections to a magistrate judge's non-dispositive order within fourteen days of being served with such order, but this Court's review of a magistrate judge's resolution of a non-dispositive pretrial matter is limited to determining whether the order is "clearly erroneous" or "contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). See also Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 1993) ("When a magistrate judge determines a non-excepted, pending pretrial matter, the district court has the authority to reconsider' the determination, but under a limited standard of review."). Under this standard, the Court is not empowered to reverse the magistrate judge's finding simply because this Court would have decided the issue differently. Findings of fact are reviewed under the "clearly erroneous" standard. Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992). Legal conclusions are reviewed under the "contrary to law" standard. Id. "A finding [of fact] is clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Adams County Reg'l Water Dist. v. Vill. of Manchester, 226 F.3d 513, 517 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). See also Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (interpreting the "clearly erroneous" standard in Rule 52(a)). A legal conclusion is contrary to law if it contradicts or ignores applicable precepts of law, as found in the Constitution, statutes, or case precedent. Lafountain v. Martin, No. 1:07-cv-76, 2010 WL 748215, at *1 (W.D. Mich. March 1, 2010) (citing Gandee, 785 F.Supp. at 686). The standard of review of legal conclusions is de novo. United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 607 (6th Cir. 2001).
The plaintiff filed suit in February 2014. Because the plaintiff is a prisoner who challenges the conditions of his confinement and seeks relief from government officials and employees, the Court conducted an initial review of the complaint shortly after it was filed and concluded that it stated colorable claims for relief against 29 of the 36 originally named defendants. Other defendants have been named or identified by their full names in subsequent amendments to the complaint. The plaintiff's claims primarily concern allegations that prison and state authorities have failed to treat the plaintiff's hepatitis C and have been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs.
Because the plaintiff paid the filing fee rather than proceeding in forma pauperis, however, he was largely left to his own devices to effect service of process on the numerous defendants. Although this matter has been pending for almost two years, a substantial portion of that time and many of the Court filings in this matter concern the plaintiff's attempts to effect service of process.
The magistrate judge initially denied the plaintiff's motions (ECF Nos. 12, 33, 59) to have the United States Marshals Service effect service of process on the defendants whom the plaintiff was having difficulty serving. ( See ECF Nos. 35, 63.) Eventually, however, largely in recognition of the plaintiff's diligent and persistent efforts to serve all the defendants, the magistrate judge granted the plaintiff's renewed motion (ECF No. 74), and ordered the United States Marshal or Deputy Marshal to effect service on the remaining 12 defendants who had not yet been served at that time and 5 defendants who were contesting service. (ECF No. 207.) It is unclear at this point which defendants, if any, remain unserved.
The plaintiff, over the course of the time span during which his claims arose, was housed at three different facilities-Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX), Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), and Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX)-all operated by the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC). Consequently, the defendants include individuals who are or were employed at the three different facilities as well as TDOC officials. In July 2014, the plaintiff was transferred to NWCX.
A. ECF No. 38
This filing is titled "Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Citing Objections to Magistrate's Order." (ECF No. 38.) The Court construes it as a motion for review and an objection under Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to a non-dispositive order entered by the magistrate judge. In this objection, filed in May 2013, the plaintiff seeks review of Judge Knowles' order (ECF No. 35) denying the plaintiff's motion to have service made by the U.S. Marshals Service. Because Judge Knowles subsequently granted the plaintiff's renewed motion to have the U.S. Marshals effect service, the motion to alter or amend and the objection have been rendered moot and will therefore be denied and overruled, respectively, without further discussion.
B. ECF Nos. 346 and 347
In two separate "motions for review of objections" (ECF Nos. 346 and 347) (filed August 29, 2014), the plaintiff objects to two separate orders (ECF Nos. 332 and 327 (entered Aug. 21, 2014)) denying the plaintiff's motion to compel answers to the plaintiff's interrogatories and to produce requested documents (ECF No. 128 (filed Oct. 7, 2013)) and granting defendant Corizon's motion for a protective order (ECF No. 102). Judge Knowles denied the plaintiff's motion to compel on the basis that a case management conference would be scheduled (and was later scheduled, see ECF No. 352) and that he had previously granted Corizon's motion for a protective order barring discovery prior to the case management conference. The Court construes the related filings both as motions for review of two non-dispositive orders entered by the magistrate judge and as objections under Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The motions for review will be granted, but the objections will be overruled, as discussed below.
The plaintiff objects that the orders denying his motion to compel and granting defendant Corizon's motion for a protective order were contrary to law and clearly erroneous. The plaintiff also argues that he sought discovery in order to obtain up-to-date information about the defendants he had, as yet, been unable to serve and that denial of his motion to compel and entry of the protective order would only serve to further delay effecting service on those defendants.
A case management conference was actually conducted on October 8, 2014, which effectively terminated the protective order. On October 10, Judge Knowles entered an order directing all parties to respond to all outstanding discovery requests on or before November 21, 2014. (ECF No. 380.) In light of the expiration of the protective order and entry of the order effectively compelling responses to the plaintiff's discovery by November 21, the Court finds that the plaintiff's objections have been rendered moot and must be overruled on that basis.
C. ECF No. 348
On February 24, 2014, the plaintiff filed a Supplemental Motion to Recover Costs and Expenses of Making Formal Service (ECF No. 212). In this motion, the plaintiff argued that defendants Chafin,  Davis, Edwards, Howerton, Jenkins, Lester, Pierceal, Schofield, Sexton, Walker, and Wiggins were mailed a copy of the original complaint, affidavit in support of the complaint, and two waiver of service forms that "conformed to the federal Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver' form, and a prepaid means of returning the waiver form to the plaintiff." (ECF No. 212, at 1.) The plaintiff asserts that the mailing to each of these defendants was in compliance with Rule 4(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but that these defendants nonetheless "chose not to return the waiver form or take any other action allowed by law or rule." (ECF No. 212, at 1.) As a result, according to the plaintiff, he was required to make "formal service, " thereby incurring "additional costs of approximately one thousand dollars, which included postage and copying fees." ( Id. ) The motion was filed with a memorandum of law and the plaintiff's declaration. (ECF Nos. 213, 214.)
The defendants responded to the motion (ECF No. 221), and the magistrate judge denied it (ECF No. 337) on the basis of Rule 4(d)(2), which provides in pertinent part that the Court must impose costs upon a defendant who "fails, without good cause, to sign and return a waiver requested by a plaintiff." In denying the motion, Judge Knowles relied upon the following language in the defendants' response:
The undersigned has made every effort to accept service for the defendants in this case where it was properly made, and to decline service in those instances where it was not made according to the applicable rules. As the undersigned has repeatedly asserted, this case has been complicated by the fact that the defendants are located throughout the state of Tennessee; some are retired, on extended sick leave, or were on vacation at the time service was attempted. In all cases, those individuals at the various institutions did their best to comply with TDOC policy 105.04 governing service on Department employees. Many of those agents had never been presented with a waiver of service of summons and believed they had taken ...