McBride v. Houston County Health Care Authority et al
OPINION AND ORDER that: 1) Defendants City of Dothan and Chief of Police Greg Benton's motions to stay discovery pending this court's ruling on their assertion of the qualified-immunity defense 20 and 36 are granted. (2) All discovery is stayed pending resolution of the pending motions to dismiss 10 , 17 , and 26 . Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 2/25/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, SOUTHERN DIVISION
HOUSTON COUNTY HEALTH CARE )
AUTHORITY d/b/a Southeast )
Alabama Medical Center,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Courtney McBride charges that, while she
was in pre-trial custody in a city jail, defendants
Police Chief Greg Benton and City of Dothan, Alabama were
deliberately indifferent to her medical needs, causing
her to suffer serious, permanent injuries.
that the defendants’ conduct violated the Fourteenth
Amendment and state law.
Benton replied by, among other
things, asserting the defense of qualified immunity as to
McBride’s Fourteenth Amendment claim. The city contested
its liability under state law.
Having asserted these
defenses, the defendants then moved to have this court,
pending a ruling on the merits of the defenses, stay
discovery against them.
The qualified-immunity defense “protects government
officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.’”
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)).
Qualified immunity, which was once
called “good-faith immunity,” see, e.g., Gomez v. Toledo,
446 U.S. 635, 639-40 (1980) (“[A] public official[’s]
position might entitle him to immunity if he acted in
good faith.”); Harlow, 457 U.S. at 807 (referring to
“qualified or good-faith immunity”), essentially seeks to
protect government officials from monetary liability for
unexpected changes in the law.
As such, if Benton is
alleged to have violated legal rights that were not
“clearly established” in the law at the time of his
challenged conduct, this court will not make him pay for
the lack of foresight.
“Qualified immunity is intended not only to protect
officials from civil damages, but just as importantly, to
including the potential disruptiveness of discovery.”
Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 491 (6th Cir. 2009); see
also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685 (2009) (“The
basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to
free officials from the concerns of litigation, including
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.”)
(quotation marks and citation omitted).
question is resolved, discovery should not be allowed.”
Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818.
In order to “protect the
substance of the qualified immunity defense,” the court
“must exercise its discretion so that officials are not
subjected to unnecessary and burdensome discovery or
trial proceedings” until after the court has determined
that the qualified-immunity defense will not stand.
v. Ala. Dep’t. of Youth Serv., 209 F.R.D. 493, 495 (M.D.
Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 597-98,
(1998)), aff'd, 73 F.
App'x 386 (11th Cir. 2003); see also Caraballo-Sandoval
v. Honsted, 35 F.3d 521, 524 (11th Cir. 1994) (“[T]he
district court properly stayed discovery until it decided
the qualified immunity issue.”).
To reiterate, the merits of the qualified-immunity
inquiry are distinct from the issue of whether the court
immunity defense is raised and the defendants have moved
for a stay of discovery, the first issue before the court
is whether to grant the stay, which is an exercise of the
court’s discretion, and, in general, the “balancing is
done with a thumb on the side of the scale weighing
K.M., 209 F.R.D. at 495 (quotation
separately, the court must decide whether the immunity
defense is meritorious and bars the lawsuit, which turns
on whether the defendants’ alleged conduct violated a
clearly established federal right.
Accordingly, as for the Fourteenth Amendment claim
against Benton, this court will stay discovery until
after it has decided whether his defense is meritorious.
Under the court’s earlier scheduling order, the motion to
dismiss pursuant to the qualified-immunity doctrine is
currently under submission to the court.
See Order (Doc.
Although it is clear that discovery should be stayed
as to the Fourteenth Amendment claim against Benton, one
McBride has named as defendants both
Benton and the city, and she has asserted federal and
state-law claims against both.
While qualified immunity
does not apply to state-law claims, nor does it apply to
municipal defendants, Heggs v. Grant, 73 F.3d 317, 319
n.5 (11th Cir. 1996), the court nevertheless thinks an
across-the-board stay is warranted in this case.
Here, given the significantly intertwined nature of
the claims against Benton and the city, sound judicial
administration warrants a brief stay as to all claims
against both Benton and the city.
As an initial matter,
resolution of the qualified-immunity defense will cause
a lengthy delay, as the defendants’ relevant motion is
already under submission.
McBride has shown no reason a
bifurcating discovery into two stages makes little sense.
It seems foreseeable that proceeding as such would lead
discovery requests, which would waste judicial resources.
See K.M., 209 F.R.D. at 495 (“[S]ome sort of stay is
required as to even [the] two defendants [who did not
move to stay], because the court refuses to order these
claims to proceed to trial because of the danger of
wasting judicial resources through piecemeal litigation,
Moreover, as the Supreme Court has explained, if
discovery is stayed against one defendant but not related
co-defendants, the stay is, practically speaking, likely
to be illusory for the intended beneficiary.
quite likely that, when discovery as to the other parties
proceeds, it would prove necessary for [the party against
whom discovery has been stayed] and their counsel to
participate in the process to ensure the case does not
prejudice to their position.
Even if [defendants] are
not yet themselves subject to discovery orders, then,
they would not be free from the burdens of discovery.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 685-86.
In sum, it is clear that Benton is entitled to a stay
of discovery relating to the Fourteenth Amendment claim.
In the interest of efficiency, this court will also stay
discovery as to the state-law claims against Benton and
all claims against the city, even though those claims are
not covered by the qualified-immunity doctrine.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that:
(1) Defendants City of Dothan and Chief of Police
Greg Benton’s motions to stay discovery pending this
immunity defense (Doc. Nos. 20 and 36) are granted.
(2) All discovery is stayed pending resolution of the
pending motions to dismiss (Doc. Nos. 10, 17, and 26).
DONE, this the 25th day of February, 2013.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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