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Tellis v. Leblanc

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

December 12, 2019





         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' appeal of the Magistrate Judge's order granting Defendants' motion for mental health exams. [Record Document 232]. The Magistrate Judge's order is AFFIRMED in part and MODIFIED as explained herein.

         I. Background

         Anthony Tellis ("Tellis")[1] and Bruce Charles ("Charles") brought this suit on behalf of a class of all prisoners held in extended lockdown at David Wade Correctional Center ("DWCC") and a sub-class of prisoners with mental illness on the lockdown tiers. [Record Document 154]. The Advocacy Center of Louisiana has since been added as a Plaintiff in this matter. [Record Document 154]. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' policies, practices, and procedures are in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. [Record Document 154 at 50-53]. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that Defendants are in violation of the aforementioned laws and injunctive relief enjoining Defendants from continuing to operate in an illegal manner. [Record Document 154 at 53-54]. The motion for class certification remains pending. [Record Document 2]. The parties have agreed that there will only be one discovery period in this case applicable to both class certification and the merits of Plaintiffs' claims. [Record Document 241 at 2].

         As part of discovery, Defendants seek to perform mental health examinations on 42 individuals at DWCC. [Record Document 216]. Defendants argue that these exams are proper under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35 because Plaintiffs have placed at issue the mental health status of inmates held on extended lockdown through their claims in this lawsuit, because Plaintiffs' mental health experts met with the inmates, and because without such exams Defendants' experts would not have access to the individuals likely to be "central to the opinions" of Plaintiffs' experts. [Record Documents 216-1 at 3 and 221 at 2]. Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' motion by arguing, among other things: that Defendants failed to properly specify the scope, conditions, time, and methods of the exams; that Defendants failed to establish "how or why these individuals' mental health conditions are in controversy"; and that Defendants failed to show good cause for these exams because the individuals at issue are already in Defendants' custody. [Record Document 219 at 2]. The Magistrate Judge responded to each of Plaintiffs' objections and granted Defendants' motion. [Record Document 227].

         Plaintiffs appealed the Magistrate Judge's order to this Court, arguing that the Magistrate Judge's decision was in error for reasons similar to those previously articulated. [Record Documents 232 and 232-1]. Defendants responded, noting that Plaintiffs could not carry their burden of demonstrating that the Magistrate Judge's decision was "clearly erroneous" and defending the decision on the merits. [Record Document 237].

         This Court held a hearing on the matter on November 14, 2019, at which the Court requested more information from both parties. [Record Document 241]. The parties have now completed supplemental briefing. [Record Documents 240, 245, 247]. In these additional filings, Plaintiffs clarified that Plaintiffs' experts had not in fact met individually with each of the inmates and that Plaintiffs did not currently claim an attorney-client relationship with all 42 individuals.[2] [Record Document 240].

         II. Standard of Review

         Under the Federal Magistrate Act, a magistrate judge may issue binding rulings on non-dispositive matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). A party that objects to such a ruling may appeal to the district judge who "must. . . modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). A clear error standard applies to a magistrate judge's findings of fact, while legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. See Spillers v. Chevron USA Inc., No. 11-2163, 2013 WL 869387, at *3 (W.D. La. Mar. 6, 2013) (citing Choate v. State Farm Lloyds, No. 03-2111, 2005 WL 1109432, at *1 (N.D. Tex. May 5, 2005)). "A finding 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." United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948). Hence, reversal of a factual finding is improper whenever the "magistrate judge's 'account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety.'" Smith v. Smith, 154 F.R.D. 661, 665 (N.D. Tex. 1994) (quoting Resolution Tr. Corp. v. Sands, 151 F.R.D. 616, "619(N.D. Tex 1993)).

         III. Law and Analysis

         Defendants argue that they should be allowed to conduct the exams at issue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 35. [Record Document 216]. Rule 35 provides that a court:

may order a party whose mental or physical condition ... is in controversy to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner. The court has the same authority to order a party to produce for examination a person who is in its custody or under its legal control.

Fed. R Civ. P. 35(a)(1). Rule 35 further states that a court should only order an exam "for good cause and on notice to all parties and the person to be examined." Fed. R Civ. P. 35(a)(2)(A). The order "must specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination, as well as the person or ...

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