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Walker v. Suarez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 17, 2015

GEORGE WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
VINCE SUAREZ, Walsenburg Police Captain, and KEVIN STONER, Deputy District Attorney for Colorado’s Third Judicial District, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

ORDER

Kathleen M. Tafoya United States Magistrate Judge

The matter before the court is Defendants’ “Motion to Stay Discovery.” (Doc. No. 22 [Mot.], filed Oct. 19, 2015.) Plaintiff did not file a response.

BACKGROUND

This case arises from Plaintiff’s arrest after he allegedly threatened the life of Michael Brown, a Certified Peace Officer with the Colorado’s Division of Wildlife. (See Doc. No. 5 [Am. Compl.] at 2-4.) The allegations of Plaintiff’s complaint set forth the following facts. On April 15, 2015, Michael Brown, who works for Colorado’s Division of Wildlife as a Certified Peace Officer, met with Captain Vince Suarez of the Walsenburg Police Department. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Brown told Suarez that earlier in the day he had been called to a pawn shop in Walsenburg by the owner, Joe Kancilia.[1] Kancilia stated that when Plaintiff was in the pawn shop, he expressed anger at the Game and Fish Department, and stated that he, Plaintiff, was going to “shoot the chopper down and kill everyone inside.” (Id., ¶ 12c-d.) Kancilia also stated that he heard Plaintiff say that he was going to shoot Mike Brown for chasing elk. (Id., ¶ 12d.) Kancilia told Plaintiff to let it go but Plaintiff got angry and said “no way” and made statements which indicated he would be laying in wait for Brown on the road. (Id., ¶ 12e-f.) Kancilia also told Brown that a customer, George Hudrun, was in the pawn shop at the same time and also heard Plaintiff state that he would kill Mike Brown. (Id., ¶ 12i). Brown took written statements from both Kancilia and Hudrun and gave them to Captain Suarez. (Id., ¶ 13, Exs. B and C.)

Captain Suarez then drafted an Affidavit for an Arrest Warrant[2] for Plaintiff and presented it to Defendant Stoner, a deputy district attorney for Colorado’s Third Judicial District. (Id. at 3; Ex. D, Walsenburg Police Department Affidavit for Arrest Warrant.) After Deputy D.A. Stoner initialed the application for the warrant, Captain Suarez filed it with the state court and on April 16, 2015, Honorable Judge Gary Stork issued the arrest warrant. Plaintiff was arrested later that day. (Id., ¶¶ 17, 18). On May 11, 2015, Judge Appel dismissed the case upon the prosecution’s motion stating “[t]here is insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Id., ¶ 21; Ex. F.)

Plaintiff filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants Captain Suarez and Deputy District Attorney Stoner alleging violations of his Fourth and First Amendment rights in state court on July 30, 2015 and the case was removed to this court on September 9, 2015. Defendants assert qualified and absolute immunity from prosecution under the facts alleged and have since moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s lawsuit on that basis. (See generally Doc. No. 10 [Def. Suarez Mot. to Dismiss]; Doc. No. 17 [Def. Stoner Mot. to Dismiss]).

ANALYSIS

Defendants argue that because their Motions to Dismiss assert qualified and absolute immunity and that the balance of interests weigh in favor of a stay, the court should stay discovery until it resolves the Motions to Dismiss. (See Id. at 1, 3-6.) Plaintiff does not oppose the stay requested by Defendants. (Id. at 2.)

Immunity provisions, whether qualified, absolute, or pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, are meant to free officials from the concerns of litigation, including avoidance of disruptive discovery. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685 (2009) (citing Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment)). See also Workman v. Jordan, 958 F.2d 332, 335 (10th Cir. 1992) (noting that qualified immunity, if successful, protects an official both from liability and the ordinary burdens of litigation, including far-ranging discovery) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 817-18 (1982). As explained by the Court in Iqbal, there are serious and legitimate reasons for this protection:

If a Government official is to devote time to his or her duties, and to the formulation of sound and responsible policies, it is counterproductive to require the substantial diversion that is attendant to participating in litigation and making informed decisions as to how it should proceed. Litigation, though necessary to ensure that officials comply with the law, exacts heavy costs in terms of efficiency and expenditure of valuable time and resources that might otherwise be directed to the proper execution of the work of the Government. The costs of diversion are only magnified when Government officials are charged with responding to [the burdens of litigation discovery].

Id. at 685.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly provide for a stay of proceedings. See String Cheese Incident, LLC v. Stylus Shows, Inc., 02-CV-01934-LTB-PA, 2006 WL 894955, at *2 (D. Colo. March 30, 2006). Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 does, however, provide that

[a] party or any person from whom discovery is sought may move for a protective order in the court where the action is pending . . . . The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, ...

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