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King v. United States

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 29, 2017

TIMOTHY KING, Special Administrator of deceased Otis L. Bradley, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Teresa J. James, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery (ECF No. 28). In their motion, individual Defendants Kristine Aulepp, Amber McCafferty, Jason Clark, Jason Troll, Justin Alexander and Claude May, and Defendant United States ask the undersigned Magistrate Judge to enter a stay of discovery pending the presiding District Judge's ruling on their Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25). Plaintiffs oppose the requested stay. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motion.

         I. Legal Standard for Motion to Stay Discovery

         The decision to stay discovery and other pretrial proceedings is firmly vested in the sound discretion of the trial court.[1] The Tenth Circuit, however, has held that “the right to proceed in court should not be denied except under the most extreme circumstances.”[2] Therefore, as a general rule, the District of Kansas does not favor staying discovery pending a ruling on a dispositive motion.[3] A stay is not favored because it can delay a timely resolution of the matter.[4]

Although, upon a showing of good cause, the court may . . . stay or limit the scope of discovery to protect a party from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or undue burden or expense, bare assertions that discovery will be unduly burdensome or that it should be stayed because pending dispositive motions will probably be sustained, are insufficient to justify the entry of an order staying discovery generally.[5]

         However, a stay pending a ruling on a dispositive motion is appropriate where the case is likely to be finally concluded as a result of the ruling, where the facts sought through the remaining discovery would not affect the ruling on the pending motion, or where discovery on all issues in the case would be wasteful and burdensome.[6]

         An stay may also be appropriate when the party requesting it has filed a dispositive motion asserting absolute or qualified immunity.[7] In that instance, a defendant is entitled to have the question of immunity resolved before being required to engage in discovery and other pretrial proceedings.[8] Qualified immunity “spare[s] a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn out lawsuit.”[9]Further, it is “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability[, ] and like an absolute immunity, it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial.”[10] However, “[q]ualified immunity is not a shield from all discovery.”[11] When the issue of immunity is raised but not yet determined, discovery is limited to “resolving that issue alone.”[12]

         A party seeking a stay of discovery has the burden to clearly show a compelling reason for the court to issue a stay.[13]

         II. The Parties' Arguments

         Defendants argue that a stay is appropriate because the individual Defendants have moved for dismissal or summary judgment of Plaintiffs' Bivens claims[14] based on qualified immunity. They contend that allowing discovery to go forward would unnecessarily divert the time and resources of these six current and former Federal Bureau of Prisons employees. Furthermore, they argue, discovery would be wasteful and unduly burdensome because the individual Defendants' qualified immunity defense is capable of fully concluding the Bivens claim Plaintiff asserts against them.

         Although only one of the four counts in Plaintiffs' amended complaint has been met with a defense of qualified immunity, Defendants also seek a stay of discovery for the remaining three counts which assert claims against the United States and the individual Defendants under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Defendants merely repeat the Wolf factors-the circumstances in which a stay pending a ruling on a dispositive motion is appropriate-but do not apply them to this case. Defendants also assert that discovery would not affect the resolution of the dispositive motions and will not cause Plaintiffs to suffer prejudice.

         Plaintiffs detail their need for discovery and the ways in which their efforts to conduct discovery have been thwarted. They point out that they named John and Jane Doe Defendants in their Bivens claim because they are unaware of all federal employees who allegedly caused or contributed to Mr. Bradley's death in the U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth. They first sought that information through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA), which resulted in a partial release of records. They ultimately filed an administrative claim with the Bureau of Prisons, but obtained no documents in return. Upon filing this civil action, Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking limited discovery which would allow them to learn the identities of the Doe Defendants.[15] The Court denied the motion.[16] Defendants simultaneously filed their dispositive motion, [17] attaching documents Plaintiffs had not previously seen, and the instant motion. Since this motion has been pending, Plaintiffs have filed a motion asking the presiding District Judge to defer ruling on Defendants' dispositive motion until Plaintiffs are allowed to conduct discovery on the FTCA claims and on whether the individual Defendants may properly assert qualified immunity.[18] That motion remains pending. Plaintiffs contend they are entitled to conduct discovery to evaluate whether the individual Defendants are allowed to claim qualified immunity, and that Defendants have not met their burden on the Wolf factors to demonstrate why discovery should not go forward on the FTCA claims.

         III. Application of the Standard to This Case

         As noted above, absent an assertion of immunity, the great weight of authority in this District is against granting a stay of discovery and other pretrial proceedings, even when a dispositive motion is pending. In those instances in which a stay is appropriate, at least one of the following three factors is present: (1) the case is likely to be finally concluded as a result of the ruling, (2) the facts sought through the remaining discovery would not affect the ruling on the pending motion, or (3) discovery on all issues in the case would be wasteful and burdensome.[19]

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Although Defendants seek a stay of all discovery because the individual Defendants assert qualified immunity, their motion acknowledges that case law permits discovery limited to determining whether immunity applies. In advance of an order to conduct a Rule 26(f) conference, Plaintiffs moved to conduct such limited discovery, hoping to obtain information that would allow them to amend their complaint and name the relevant federal employees who allegedly caused or contributed to Mr. Bradley's death.[20] The Court denied their motion.[21] On February 6, 2017, before the Court entered its ruling, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint.[22]The United States filed its answer on April 28, 2017, [23] and on May 12, 2017 all Defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss or in the alternative, for summary judgment, [24] along with the instant motion. One month later, Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the presiding ...


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