Samuels v. Davis et al
AMENDED ORDER by Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix on 1/16/15. (lgale, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Civil Action No. 14-cv-02588-LTB-KLM
JOHN L. DAVIS,
THOMAS C. FISHER, M.D.,
CHRISTINE STURGEON, N.P.,
VALERIE EGLEY, R.N.,
BETTY KASPAR, R.N.,
AMY KAMMERZELL, R.N.,
JEFFREY HANSEN, and
ENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Stay Discovery, Stay
Rule 26 Deadlines and Proceedings, and to Vacate the January 20, 2015 Scheduling
This Amended Order amends and supercedes Order [#36].
Conference [#16]2 (the “Motion”). Plaintiff filed an Amended Response [#38] in opposition
to the Motion. Defendants ask the Court to stay discovery in this case until after the
pending Motion to Dismiss [#15] is resolved.3 All Defendants in this action are identified
in their personal capacities only, and each asserts a qualified immunity defense to Plaintiff’s
sole claim asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of his rights under the
Eighth Amendment. See Compl. [#1]. Thus, if granted, the Motion to Dismiss would
dispose of the sole claim asserted against each Defendant.
Questions 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 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)).
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
“[#16]” 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 convention is used throughout this Order.
The Motion to Dismiss [#15], filed on December 1, 2014, is referred to the undersigned
for recommendation [#28].
burdensome discovery or trial proceedings.” Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 597-98
(1998). However, an assertion of qualified immunity “is not a bar to all discovery.” Rome
v. Romero, 225 F.R.D. 640, 643 (D. Colo. 2004).
When 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.
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)).
Plaintiff provides a thoughtful, lengthy discussion regarding the fairness of the String
Cheese Incident factors and why Plaintiff believes those factors automatically tend to weigh
more heavily in favor of staying a case. Response [#38] at 2-6. Although Plaintiff
discusses several aspects of these factors, Plaintiff believes the greatest problem with
String Cheese Incident is as follows:
A fundamental failing of the String Cheese analysis is that it does not include
any “threshold” review of the applicable law related to the second prong of
a qualified immunity analysis to determine if the type of violation at issue is
one that “clearly established” law would recognize. A String Cheese analysis
does not consider the strength of a motion to dismiss, at all.
Id. at 5. Plaintiff appears to suggest that a sixth factor should be added to the String
Cheese Incident analysis when the stay is predicated on a pending dispositive motion. This
factor would be akin to the first element examined in cases where preliminary injunctions
are sought, i.e., examination of whether Plaintiff has a likelihood of success on the merits.
See, e.g., Assoc. of Christian Schs. Int’l v. Burwell, __ F. Supp. 3d __, __, 2014
WL6704310, at *5 (D. Colo. Nov. 26, 2014) (listing the elements a party must meet to
obtain a preliminary injunction). But the Court is not inclined to create new law in this
regard. In addition, as a practical matter, examining the merits of Plaintiff’s claims on a
motion to stay discovery would essentially require adjudication of the dispositive motion at
the same time, thus negating the entire purpose of the motion to stay. Moreover, that
approach is simply not feasible in light of the Court’s workload.
Turning to the five traditional String Cheese Incident factors, the Court first
addresses the interest of Plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously with discovery and the
potential prejudice to Plaintiff of a delay. Plaintiff states:
Plaintiff has a significant interest in the just, speedy, and fair resolution of his
case as prescribed by Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 1. This case is now over two years
old.4 There is a continuing risk of evidence loss as the memories of the
witnesses fade. There is an increased risk of evidence loss because the
witnesses in this case are primarily detention officers who routinely deal with
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of inmates in similar circumstances every
year. Moreover, Plaintiff has an interest in the speedy resolution of his case
because he suffers from ongoing medical complications resulting from the
incident that continue to cause hardship and expensive.
Response [#38] at 6. Despite Plaintiff’s error about the age of the case, the Court gives
Plaintiff 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
The case was filed on September 18, 2014. Compl. [#1]. Therefore, it is less than four
weighs against staying discovery.
With 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, 225 F.R.D. at 643 (citations
omitted). Here, the sole claim made in this case is subject to the qualified immunity
defense, because Defendants are government officials, Plaintiff only seeks damages, and
the sole claim asserted against each Defendant is in his or her individual capacity only.
Compl. [#1]. 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 discovery.
With regard to the third factor, Plaintiff asserts that:
The interests of judicial economy are met by allowing the case to move
forward and instituting reasonable deadlines to track its progress. The longer
the case remains in a stagnant state, the longer the case will remain on the
Court’s docket and the more difficult discovery and trial will likely be with
witnesses who have trouble recalling the incident.
Response [#38] at 7. 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].”).
Moreover, the effect that a stay will have on the difficulty of discovery and trial is
speculative, at best. The Court therefore finds that the third String Cheese Incident factor
weighs in favor of staying discovery.
With regard to the fourth factor, there are no nonparties with significant particularized
interests in this case. Accordingly, the fourth String Cheese Incident factor neither weighs
in favor nor against staying discovery.
With regard to the fifth and final factor, Plaintiff asserts:
Furthermore, there is a significant public interest in the speedy resolution of
Section 1983 claims because the prosecution of such claims often shed[s]
light on law enforcement misconduct that may, then, be recognized by the
community and corrected by appropriate discipline or police procedure. The
public interest is supported by a system in which civil rights claims may be
allowed to proceed in a timely manner so that future plaintiffs are not
deterred by the number of years it takes to seek justice.
Response [#38] at 7 (citing Chavez v. Young Am. Ins. Co., No. 06-cv-02419-PSF-BNB,
2007 WL 683973, at *2 (D. Colo. 2007)). Defendant asserts that “the public’s only interest
in this case is for its efficient and just resolution. It is in the public’s best interest to avoid
judicial waste and to avoid unnecessary waste and expense by the parties.” Motion [#16]
The Court is not persuaded that stays in section 1983 cases are contrary to the
public interest simply because they may 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.
Weighing the relevant factors, the Court concludes that staying discovery pending
resolution of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [#15] is appropriate. Accordingly,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion to Stay [#16] is GRANTED. All discovery
is stayed pending resolution of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [#15].
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Scheduling Conference set for January 20,
2015, at 10:30 a.m. is VACATED. It shall be reset, if necessary, after resolution of the
Motion to Dismiss [#15].
DATED: January 16, 2015 at Denver, Colorado.
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