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Coffman v. Hutchinson Community College

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 21, 2018



          GWYNNE E. BIRZER United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery (ECF No. 75). On February 9, 2018, the Court conducted an in-person hearing to discuss the pending motion. Plaintiff Dustin D. Coffman appeared in person. All Defendants appeared jointly through counsel, Allen G. Glendenning, Carole K. DeWald, and Adam Michael Teel. After consideration of both the arguments of the parties and counsel, and the parties' briefing, the Court GRANTED Defendants' motion at hearing. The previously-announced ruling of the Court is now memorialized below.

         In addition, the Court considers the following motions filed by Plaintiff since the hearing: 1) Plaintiff's Motion for Discovery (ECF No. 86); 2) Plaintiff's Motion for Hearing (ECF No. 87); 3) Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees (ECF No. 89); and 4) Plaintiff's Motion to “accept ECF # 7 petition as FACTS and Findings of law, A.D.R. 16.3 alternative resolution” (ECF No. 90). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motions are DENIED.

         I. Background

         An in-depth discussion of the factual and procedural background of this case was included in previous orders and will not be repeated. Generally speaking, Plaintiff filed this case, acting pro se, against Hutchinson Community College (“HCC”), claiming the school and its named instructors and administrators violated his constitutional rights by dismissing him from HCC's nursing program.

         Since filing his case on August 7, 2017, a plethora of motions have been presented ad nauseum for the Court's consideration. In the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Order of September 9, 2017, Plaintiff's request for counsel and six other motions were denied (ECF No. 23). On October 3, 2017, the undersigned considered three more of Plaintiff's motions for various forms of relief, all of which were denied (Order, ECF No. 34). In addition to the motions decided by the Magistrate Judge, the District Judge denied Plaintiff's early motion for summary judgment (Order, ECF No. 19), and granted in part and denied in part HCC's motion to dismiss (Order, ECF No. 28). The most recent orders by the undersigned granted HCC's motion to quash subpoenas improperly issued by Plaintiff (Order, ECF No. 62), and denied Plaintiff's motion to compel information from those subpoenas (ECF No. 67). In the December 11, 2017 Order, this Court reminded Plaintiff that his attempts to discover information are premature, and instructed him to refrain from filing any additional documents until the case is set for scheduling (ECF No. 67).

         II. Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery (ECF No. 75)

         Currently pending before the Court is a second motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims in their entirety (Motion, ECF No. 70). All defendants join in this motion, seeking dismissal on a number of bases. They argue Plaintiff fails to state a viable claim of First Amendment violations, due process violations, Equal Protection violations, or breach of contract. They also contend there exists no Kansas Civil Rights Act or Kansas Victim Protection Act, on which he bases two of his claims. Even if an individual instructor or administrator at HCC committed a constitutional tort, Defendants argue HCC would not be liable, because respondeat superior does not apply to constitutional violations. Defendants claim all individual defendants, if sued in their individual capacities, are entitled to a qualified immunity defense as state officials. Alternatively, Defendants argue if Plaintiff sues individuals in their official capacities only, his claims are duplicative of the official claim against HCC.

         Defendants now ask the Court to stay discovery until their motion to dismiss has been decided. They contend that, if the case is not dismissed in full, a decision on the motion is likely to significantly narrow the causes of actions, some of the defendants, and the scope of the case. This would also reduce the amount of time and money spent on discovery.

         Plaintiff asks the Court to move ahead with a scheduling conference and discovery. He argues this case has already been delayed long enough. The Court considers the arguments of the parties against the legal backdrop of their arguments.

         A. Legal Standard

         A decision on whether to stay litigation is within the Court's inherent power to control its docket and rests in its sound discretion.[1] The Court may exercise that power in the interest of economy of time and effort for itself and for counsel and parties appearing before it.[2] When discharging its discretion, the Court “must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.”[3] The Tenth Circuit has cautioned, “[t]he right to proceed in court should not be denied except under the most extreme circumstances.”[4]

         Recognizing this overarching right to proceed, the general policy of the District of Kansas is to continue with discovery during the pendency of dispositive motions.[5]However, there are recognized exceptions to this rule. One such “well-established exception” applies where a defendant seeks dismissal based on absolute or qualified immunity.[6]

         “Generally, a defendant is entitled to have questions of immunity resolved before being required to engage in discovery and other pretrial proceedings.”[7] “One of the purposes of immunity . . . is to spare a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn out lawsuit.”[8] “The Supreme Court has made it clear that until the threshold question of immunity is resolved, discovery should not be allowed.”[9]

         Even when immunity is not at issue, the court considers whether any of the following three exceptions apply to make a stay of discovery appropriate:

1) where the case is likely to be finally concluded by the ruling on the pending dispositive motion;
2) where the facts sought through uncompleted discovery would not affect the ...

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