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Fine v. Tumpkin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 8, 2018

PAMELA FINE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff initiated this diversity action on September 6, 2017 alleging claims of assault, battery, false imprisonment, and outrageous conduct against Tumpkin, a former University of Colorado (“CU”) assistant football coach, and claims of negligence and civil conspiracy against CU officials MacIntyre (head football coach), George (athletic director), DiStefano (chancellor), and Benson (president) (collectively, the “CU Defendants”).[1] See Comp., ECF No. 1. Tumpkin filed an answer in response to the Complaint, but the CU Defendants filed motions to dismiss primarily arguing that they enjoy absolute immunity from suit pursuant to the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”). Mots., ECF Nos. 16, 17. With their replies to the motions to dismiss, the CU Defendants filed a motion to stay these proceedings pending resolution of the immunity issue. ECF No. 38. The following day, Tumpkin filed his motion to stay proceedings pending resolution of a “parallel state criminal action.” ECF No. 43. The motions to stay have been referred to this Court for resolution and, for the following reasons, the Court grants both motions.

         The decision to stay discovery rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Wang v. Hsu, 919 F.2d 130, 130 (10th Cir.1990). The Court's discretion to stay proceedings arises from its power to control its own docket. See Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706-07 (1997) (citing Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254, 57 S.Ct. 163, 81 L.Ed. 153 (1936)). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly provide for a stay of proceedings; however, Rule 26(c) does permit the court, upon a showing of good cause, to “protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c).

         I. CU Defendants' Motion to Stay

         Legal questions regarding the court's subject matter jurisdiction should be resolved as early as possible in the litigation, before incurring the burdens of discovery. 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 F. App'x 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)).

         The CU Defendants raise immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”). Pursuant to the CGIA,

If a public employee raises the issue of sovereign immunity prior to or after the commencement of discovery, the court shall suspend discovery; except that any discovery necessary to decide the issue of sovereign immunity shall be allowed to proceed, and the court shall decide such issue on motion. The court's decision on such motion shall be a final judgment and shall be subject to interlocutory appeal.

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-10-118(2.5). “Such a rule comports with the CGIA's purpose of ‘protect[ing] the government from excessive fiscal burdens, which include not only the cost of judgments against the government but the costs of unnecessary litigation as well.'” Chambers v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Cnty. of Eagle, No. 13-cv-00393-REB-MEH, 2013 WL 4052397, at *2 (D. Colo. Aug. 12, 2013) (quoting Finnie v. Jefferson Cnty. Sch. Dist. R-1, 79 P.3d 1253, 1259 (Colo. 2003) and granting motions to stay filed by entity and individuals)).

         When exercising its discretion to enter a stay, the Court considers the following factors: (1) the interest of the plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously and the potential prejudice to the plaintiff of a delay; (2) the burden on the defendants; (3) the convenience to the Court; (4) the interests of nonparties; and (5) the public interest. String Cheese Incident, LLC v. Stylus Shows, Inc., No. 02-cv-01934-LTB-PAC, 2006 WL 894955, at *2 (D. Colo. Mar. 30, 2006); see also Golden Quality Ice Cream Co. v. Deerfield Speciality Papers, Inc., 87 F.R.D. 53, 56 (E.D. Pa. 1980).

         In weighing the factors for determining the propriety of a stay, the Court finds that a temporary stay is appropriate here, pending adjudication of the motions to dismiss. With respect to the first and second factors, there can be no doubt that Plaintiff has an interest in proceeding expeditiously, but the Court finds that the potential harm to Plaintiff in briefly awaiting a ruling on the motions is outweighed by the burden Defendants would bear in requesting and responding to discovery pending resolution of motions that could remove them from the case and change the framework and scope of the litigation.

         Furthermore, while this analysis determines procedure rather than substance according to the Erie doctrine, [2] the Court finds persuasive the Colorado Supreme Court's mandate that discovery be suspended. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-10-118(2.5). The statute's exception - that discovery necessary to decide the issue of sovereign immunity should proceed - does not apply here, where the Plaintiff has already filed responses to the motions to dismiss and, in so doing, sought no limited discovery for such purpose.

         Plaintiff argues that the CU Defendants' discovery requirements will be no less burdensome here than as third-party witnesses to the claims in this matter, and Plaintiff intends to serve third party discovery on the CU Defendants if they are dismissed from this action. Resp. 2, 4. But, the Court agrees with the Defendants that, if they are dismissed from the case, the action will focus solely on Plaintiff's claims against Tumpkin, which are separate and apart from the claims raised against them. In other words, while Plaintiff's claims against Tumpkin arise from her relationship with him and from alleged events that occurred during the relationship, the claims against the CU Defendants arise from alleged events that occurred after the relationship ended. See Comp. ¶¶ 64, 68. Dismissal of these latter claims would change the framework and scope of the action and, likely, lessen the CU Defendants' discovery burden. The Court finds the first and second factors weigh in favor of a stay of the action.

         With regard to the third factor, the Court finds it more efficient to stay this action against the CU Defendants until it is clear that the case will proceed. See Chavous v. Dist. of Columbia Fin. Responsibility & Mgmt. Assistance Auth., 201 F.R.D. 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2001) (staying discovery pending a 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 third factor weighs in favor of staying this matter.

         Consideration of the remaining String Cheese factors (i.e., the interests of nonparties and the public in general) do not prompt a different result and, thus, weigh neutrally. On the whole, the Court holds that a temporary stay of discovery is appropriate pending the resolution ...

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