United States District Court, D. Colorado
NICOL NOWLIN, as personal representative of the Estate of Michael Craven, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF ARAPAHOE, COLORADO, DAVID C. WALCHER, Sheriff of Arapahoe County, in his official capacity, LOUIE PEREA, Undersheriff of Arapahoe County, in his official capacity, VINCE LINE, Bureau Chief, Detention Administration, in his individual and official capacities, LAURIE HALABA, Captain, Detention Administration, in her individual capacity, JARED ROWLISON, Captain, Detention Operations, in his individual capacity, DAVID AXELROD, Detention Operation Technician, in his individual capacity, WILLIAM RIVAS, Deputy, in his individual capacity, B.J. BEATTY, Deputy, in his individual capacity, MOLLY NILL, Deputy, in her individual capacity, GEOFFREY MAISCH, Sergeant, in his individual capacity, and TRENT STEFFA, Sergeant, in his individual capacity, Defendants.
Kristen L. Mix, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion
to Stay Discovery and Vacate Scheduling Conference
(the “Motion”). Plaintiff filed a Response [#14]
in opposition to the Motion, and Defendants filed a Reply
[#16]. Defendants ask the Court to vacate the Scheduling
Conference set for January 29, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. and to
stay discovery in this case until after Defendants'
pending Motion to Dismiss [#7] is resolved. Nine of the
eleven individual Defendants in this action are identified in
their personal capacities, and each asserts a qualified
immunity defense to Plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for the alleged violation of his rights under the
Eighth Amendment. See Compl. [#1]. If granted in
full, the Motion to Dismiss would dispose of all claims
asserted against all Defendants.
of jurisdiction and immunity should be resolved at the
earliest stages of litigation, so as to conserve the time and
resources of the Court and the parties. See Behrens v.
Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 308 & 310 (1996) (noting
that discovery can be particularly disruptive when a
dispositive motion regarding immunity is pending); Moore
v. Busby, 92 Fed.Appx. 699, 702 (10th Cir. 2004)
(affirming trial court's stay of discovery pending
resolution of absolute immunity question); Albright v.
Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531, 1534 (10th Cir. 1995)
(“the Supreme Court has repeatedly ‘stressed the
importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest
possible stage in litigation.'” (citation
omitted)). Qualified immunity “give[s] government
officials a right, not merely to avoid ‘standing trial,
' but also to avoid the burdens of ‘such pretrial
matters as discovery . . . .'” Behrens,
516 U.S. at 308 (citation omitted). The Court is obligated to
“exercise its discretion so that officials [properly
asserting qualified immunity] are not subjected to
unnecessary and burdensome discovery or trial
proceedings.” Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S.
574, 597-98 (1998).
exercising its discretion regarding whether to impose a stay,
the Court considers the following factors: (1) the interest
of the plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously with discovery
and the potential prejudice to the plaintiff of a delay; (2)
the burden on the defendants of proceeding with discovery;
(3) the convenience to the Court of staying discovery; (4)
the interests of nonparties in either staying or proceeding
with discovery; and (5) the public interest in either staying
or proceeding with discovery. String Cheese Incident, LLC
v. Stylus Shows, Inc., No. 1:02-cv-01934-LTB-PAC, 2006
WL 894955, at *2 (D. Colo. Mar. 30, 2006) (citing FDIC v.
Renda, No. 85-2216-O, 1987 WL 348635, at *2 (D. Kan.
Aug. 6, 1987)).
Court first addresses the interest of Plaintiff in proceeding
expeditiously with discovery and the potential prejudice to
Plaintiff of a delay. Plaintiff summarily states that he
“has a strong interest in proceeding expeditiously with
the litigation, and Plaintiff's ability to pursue this
action will likely suffer as memories fade and witnesses'
testimony becomes less reliable.” Response
[#14] at 6. The Court notes that the effect that a stay will
have on the difficulty of discovery and trial is speculative,
at best. However, despite Plaintiff's reliance on these
purely conclusory statements, the Court gives him the benefit
of the doubt with respect to his interest in proceeding.
Based on the considerations he expresses, the Court finds
that the first String Cheese Incident factor weighs
against staying discovery.
regard to the second factor, the Court finds that Defendants
have demonstrated that proceeding with the discovery process
presents an undue burden. The defense of qualified immunity
is available to 1) individual governmental officials, but not
governmental entities; 2) regarding claims for monetary
damages, but not claims for injunctive or declaratory relief;
and 3) regarding claims against individual governmental
officials in their individual capacities, not their official
capacities. Rome v. Romero, 225 F.R.D. 640, 643 (D.
Colo. 2004) (citations omitted). Here, nine of the Defendants
have asserted this defense because they are government
officials, Plaintiff only seeks damages, and the claim is
asserted against these Defendants in their individual
capacities. Compl. [#1]. Plaintiff argues that
“the burden on Defendants is likely to be minimal,
especially if . . . this Court issues orders containing the
scope of discovery until the qualified immunity issues are
resolved.” Response [#14] at 6. However, the
United States Supreme Court has discouraged partial stays of
discovery in situations like the one presented here. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685-86 (2009)
(“It is no answer to these concerns to say that
discovery for petitioners can be deferred while pretrial
proceedings continue for other defendants. It is quite likely
that, when discovery as to the other parties proceeds, it
would prove necessary for petitioners and their counsel to
participate in the process to ensure the case does not
develop in a misleading or slanted way that causes prejudice
to their position. Even if petitioners are not yet themselves
subject to discovery orders, then, they would not be free
from the burdens of discovery.”). Based on these
considerations and strong Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit
precedent regarding assertions of qualified immunity and
discovery, the Court finds that the second String Cheese
Incident factor weighs heavily in favor of staying
regard to the third factor, Plaintiff asserts that “the
Court's docket will benefit if the parties are permitted
to commence discovery, as the case will proceed more
expeditiously toward a posture in which the parties can
intelligently discuss potential pretrial resolution and/or
proceed toward a trial on the merits.”
Response [#14] at 6. This may be partially true. But
if the case remains “in a stagnant state” on the
Court's docket due to a stay, judicial economy is
enhanced, as is convenience to the Court. In those
circumstances, scheduling and discovery issues will not be
raised and will not take time from the Court that could
otherwise be used to address the pending dispositive motion.
Thus, it is certainly more convenient for the Court to stay
discovery until it is clear that the case will proceed.
See Chavous v. D.C. Fin. Responsibility & Mgmt.
Assistance Auth., 201 F.R.D. 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2001) (staying
discovery pending decision on a dispositive motion that would
fully resolve the case “furthers the ends of economy
and efficiency, since if [the motion] is granted, there will
be no need for [further proceedings].”). The Court
therefore finds that the third String Cheese
Incident factor weighs in favor of staying discovery.
regard to the fourth factor, there are no identified
nonparties with significant particularized interests in this
case. Accordingly, the fourth String Cheese Incident
factor neither weighs in favor nor against staying discovery.
regard to the fifth and final factor, Plaintiff asserts that
the public “interest favors the orderly, efficient and
expedient administration of justice, which weighs in favor of
moving the case forward in the litigation process.”
Response [#14] at 6. The Court is not persuaded that
stays in section 1983 cases are contrary to the public
interest because they may, for example, delay appropriate
discipline or procedural reform or deter future plaintiffs.
The possibility that those effects may occur is
outweighed by several factors, including the possibility that
unnecessary expenditures of public and private resources on
litigation will be minimized, the probability that
judicial resources will ultimately be conserved by addressing
dispositive issues early in the litigation, and the
probability that both judicial and attorney
resources will be conserved by clarifying and resolving
disputed legal issues at the earliest possible time. Overall,
the public's interest in the efficient and just handling
of legal disputes favors imposition of a stay in these
circumstances. Thus, the fifth String Cheese
Incident factor weighs in favor of staying discovery.
the relevant factors, the Court concludes that staying
discovery pending resolution of Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss [#7] is appropriate. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that the Motion to Stay [#8] is
GRANTED. All discovery is
stayed pending resolution of Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss [#7].
FURTHER ORDERED that the Scheduling
Conference set for January 29, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. is
VACATED. It shall be reset, if necessary,
after resolution of the Motion to Dismiss [#7].
 “[#8]” is an example of
the convention the Court uses to identify the docket number
assigned to a specific paper by the Court's case
management and electronic case filing system (CM/ECF). This