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Tellis v. Leblanc

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

February 7, 2019


          FOOTE JUDGE




         Before the court are Defendants' Motion for Protective Order (Doc. 102); Defendants' Motion to Compel (Doc. 112); and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Doc. 128).


         This putative class action was filed by Anthony Tellis and Bruce Charles on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated prisoners at David Wade Correctional Center. Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief regarding “cruel and unusual conditions” of confinement for prisoners on extended lockdown at DWCC. Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the conditions and the lack of appropriate mental health care trigger the onset or worsening of mental illness, which creates significant risk of serious harm to prisoners. Plaintiffs also allege that the facts giving rise to their claims are rooted in Defendants' systemic practices and policies, which apply with equal force to all prisoners held on extended lockdown.

         Plaintiffs are represented by the Advocacy Center, which represents that is the designated Protection and Advocacy (“P&A”) agency in the state of Louisiana. Plaintiffs state that the Advocacy Center has a federal statutory mandate to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. That mandate, according to Plaintiffs, explicitly includes people with disabilities in prison. Doc. 108, p. 6.

         In 2017, the Advocacy Center sued Department of Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc, DWCC Warden Goodwin, and Colonel Lonnie Nail in the Middle District of Louisiana for not permitting the Advocacy Center reasonable access to inmates at DWCC. The Advocacy Center and the Louisiana Department of Corrections entered into a settlement agreement regarding the Advocacy Center's access to prisoners at DWCC. Plaintiffs were not parties to that lawsuit.

         Defendants' Motion for Protective Order (Doc. 102)

         In August 2018, Plaintiffs conducted a site inspection of DWCC with their expert witnesses. The site inspection was authorized by the court in a prior memorandum order (Doc. 91) that was issued pursuant to a discovery motion. The court imposed the following conditions on the site inspection. First, Defendants, their counsel, and their experts could accompany Plaintiffs' counsel and Plaintiffs' experts during all aspects of the site visit. Second, Defendants, their counsel, and their experts were required to keep a sufficient distance between them and Plaintiffs' counsel and experts during cell-front prisoner interviews so that the interviews could be conducted with a measure of respect and in a reasonably confidential manner.

         Subsequently, Plaintiffs' counsel advised Defendants of their intention to conduct an additional site visit to do attorney walkthroughs of certain tiers. Defendants refused. Plaintiffs responded to Defendants' denial by invoking the dispute resolution provisions of the Middle District settlement agreement. Defendants took the position that the settlement agreement did not apply once litigation has begun.

         After considering all of the parties' arguments, Defendants' Motion for a Protective Order (Doc. 102) is denied. The court does not believe that Plaintiffs are attempting to use the settlement agreement to circumvent well-established discovery procedures. The court finds that Plaintiffs' counsel are entitled to conduct an additional tier walkthroughs and cell-front interviews pursuant to Rule 26 and Rule 34. The court does not perceive this request as a “fishing expedition, ” as Defendants contend.

         The parties are ordered to meet and confer in good faith regarding the date for the inspection. All previous conditions imposed on the prior inspection (Doc. 91) apply to this additional inspection.

         Plaintiffs are cautioned that the court may require a strong showing of good cause before allowing additional requests under Fed.R.Civ.P. 34 for tier walkthroughs. Indeed, the court's resolution of Plaintiffs' motion to amend may obviate the need for additional tier walkthroughs for this litigation. Defendants are cautioned that any further discovery motion filed in this court must be preceded by a “meet and confer” conducted in person or by telephone; an ...

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