Clifton v. Jeff Davis County, Georgia et al
ORDER denying Defendants' 23 Motion to Stay. Signed by Magistrate Judge R. Stan Baker on 6/15/2017. (csr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
TYLER BRENT CLIFTON,
CIVIL ACTION NO.: 2:16-cv-108
JEFF DAVIS COUNTY, GEORGIA; JEFF
DAVIS COUNTY BOARD OF
COMMISSIONERS; RAY WOOTEN, HUGH
BRANTLEY, WANDA MARCHANT, and
WAYNE HALL, all individually and as
Members of the Jeff Davis Board of
Commissioners; CARLA ROBERTS
POWELL, individually and as the County
Attorney for Jeff Davis County, Georgia; and
PRESTON BOHANNON in his official
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ Renewed Motion to Stay Discovery Pending
Ruling on Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 23.) Plaintiff filed a Response. (Doc. 28.) For the
reasons which follow, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion.
Plaintiff filed his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367 and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. (Doc. 1, p. 3.) He alleged that he and other private citizens filed open records requests
under Georgia law, researched how taxpayer funds were being used in Jeff Davis County,
Georgia, and discovered certain financial discrepancies. (Id. at pp. 3–4.) Plaintiff contends he
and another private citizen brought their findings to the Board of Commissioners, who took little
action and advised the public to ignore Plaintiff. The Board of Commissioners later voted during
an emergency meeting to issue a restraining order against Plaintiff and the other citizen, which
was to bar them from demanding records from governmental offices. Around this same time,
Plaintiff began constructing a trailer park on his private property. As part of this construction,
Plaintiff approached the County Commissioners and told them he planned to install a water line
under Lonnie Johnson Road. Plaintiff maintains the Commissioners did not inform him that he
could not install this line, nor was he required to obtain the Commissioners’ permission to do so.
(Id. at p. 5.)
Defendant Powell, the County Attorney, and Defendant Board of Commissioners filed an
incident report with the Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office concerning Plaintiff’s pipe installation in June
2013. Defendant Bohannon approved the incident report on March 18, 2014, and Plaintiff was
indicted for interference of government property and criminal trespass, in violation of Georgia
law, on April 1, 2014. (Id. at p. 6.) Plaintiff was arrested three days later. The State of Georgia
later dismissed the charges against Plaintiff. Defendants refused to drop the charges against him,
despite evidence Plaintiff committed no crime, and Plaintiff had to expend thousands of dollars
in his defense. Plaintiff avers Defendants were motivated by animus relating to Plaintiff’s open
records request. (Id. at p. 7.) Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants for malicious arrest and
prosecution under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, violations of the
Georgia Open Records Act, conspiracy, defamation, false arrest and malicious prosecution under
Georgia law, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. at pp. 7–9.)
Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint and an Answer. (Docs. 7, 8.)
In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants contended: Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Department is not
a legal entity subject to suit; Plaintiff’s claims for false arrest, defamation, and intentional
infliction of emotional distress are barred by the statute of limitations; and his malicious
prosecution under federal law, state law malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and Georgia Open
Records Act claims all fail. (Doc. 7, pp. 4–25.) Contemporaneously, Defendants filed a Motion
to Stay Proceedings pending resolution of their dispositive Motion, (doc. 9), which the Court
granted, (doc. 10).
The Honorable Lisa Godbey Wood granted in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. In so
doing, Judge Wood determined Plaintiff’s false arrest claim is time-barred, and his malicious
arrest claim failed because a prosecution was commenced against Plaintiff. (Doc. 17, pp. 2–5.)
Judge Wood noted Plaintiff surrendered his Open Records Act claims and his claims against the
Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Department. (Id. at p. 2 n.1.) Judge Wood allowed Plaintiff to
amend his Complaint within fourteen (14) days of her Order. (Id. at pp. 5–6.) Plaintiff filed his
Amended Consolidated Complaint on April 13, 2017. (Doc. 18.) Defendants then filed a partial
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Consolidated Complaint and a Motion to Stay Discovery Pending
Ruling on their Partial Motion to Dismiss. (Docs. 20, 23.) Defendants once again assert
Plaintiff’s defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims are barred by the
statute of limitations. (Doc. 20, pp. 5–7.) Defendants also contend Plaintiff’s claims against the
remaining Defendants in their official capacities fail.
(Id. at pp. 7–16.)
Plaintiff’s attempt to bring claims in his Consolidated Complaint against Defendant Bohannon in
his individual capacity do not relate back to Plaintiff’s original Complaint, and those claims are
barred by the statute of limitations. (Id. at pp. 16–18.) Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants’
Motion to Stay. (Doc. 28.)
Defendants contend it appears the dismissal of the majority of Plaintiff’s claims is
appropriate, as they raise Eleventh Amendment immunity among other defenses and seek
dismissal of claims that would greatly expand the scope of discovery if they were to go forward.
(Doc. 23, p. 2.) Defendants assert that they should not be subject “to wide-ranging discovery
until this Court has the opportunity to rule upon their Motion to Dismiss.” (Id. at p. 4.) In
addition, Defendants note the Court previously granted a stay of discovery pending resolution of
their first Motion to Dismiss.
In response, Plaintiff alleges Defendants do not seek to dispose of the entirety of this
case, as opposed to their original Motion. Specifically, Plaintiff notes Defendants do not seek
the dismissal of Plaintiff’s federal or state malicious prosecution or conspiracy claims, and these
claims “are at the heart of this action[.]” (Doc. 28, p. 4.) Thus, Plaintiff alleges this case will
proceed into discovery regardless of the Court’s disposition of Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.
Moreover, Plaintiff maintains that, even if the Court dismisses his official capacity claims
against Defendants Wooten, Brantley, Marchant, Hall, and Powell, his individual capacity claims
against these Defendants will remain pending. Plaintiff states Defendant Bohannon is a fact
witness at the very least. To stay discovery, Plaintiff asserts, would serve only to delay the
inevitable—that Defendants will still be required to participate in discovery. (Id. at p. 5.)
Plaintiff contends he will be prejudiced if another stay of discovery is granted because the events
giving rise to his Complaint arose many years ago, and he needs to obtain discovery before the
passage of time fades memories. Finally, Plaintiff asserts Defendants do not explain how a stay
would reduce their discovery burden.
With regard to the timing of discovery, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has
[i]f the district court dismisses a nonmeritorious claim before discovery has
begun, unnecessary costs to the litigants and to the court system can be avoided.
Conversely, delaying ruling on a motion to dismiss such a claim until after the
parties complete discovery encourages abusive discovery and, if the court
ultimately dismisses the claim, imposes unnecessary costs. For these reasons, any
legally unsupported claim that would unduly enlarge the scope of discovery
should be eliminated before the discovery stage, if possible.
Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1368 (11th Cir. 1997) (footnotes omitted).
For these reasons, this Court, and other courts within the Eleventh Circuit, routinely find good
cause to stay the discovery period where there is a pending motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Habib v.
Bank of Am. Corp., No. 1:10-cv-04079-SCJ-RGV, 2011 WL 2580971, at *6 n.4 (N.D. Ga. Mar.
15, 2011) (citing Chudasama, 123 F.3d at 1368) (“[T]here is good cause to stay discovery
obligations until the District Judge rules on [the defendant’s] motion to dismiss to avoid undue
expense to both parties.”); Berry v. Canady, No. 2:09-cv-765-FtM-29SPC, 2011 WL 806230, at
*1 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 2, 2011) (quoting Moore v. Potter, 141 F. App’x 803, 807 (11th Cir. 2005))
(“[N]either the parties nor the court have any need for discovery before the court rules on the
motion [to dismiss].”).
However, courts typically base the stay of discovery on a finding that the dispositive
motion could dispose of the entire case or significantly alter the scope of discovery. “‘A request
to stay discovery pending a resolution of a motion is rarely appropriate unless resolution of the
motion will dispose of the entire case. In this regard, the Court must take a ‘preliminary peek’ at
the merits of a dispositive motion to see if it ‘appears to be clearly meritorious and truly case
dispositive.’” Massey v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, No. CV412-102, 2012 WL 3685959, at *1
(S.D. Ga. Aug. 24, 2012) (quoting McCabe v. Foley, 233 F.R.D. 683, 685 (M.D. Fla. 2006)).
The Court has been able to take a “preliminary peek” at Defendants’ pending Partial
Motion to Dismiss certain of Plaintiff’s claims. Even if the Court were to grant Defendants’
Motion in its entirety, the only substantive claims that would be dismissed would be Plaintiff’s
defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.
Plaintiff has named all
individual Defendants—save Defendant Bohannon—in their individual capacities 1, and these
Defendants would be subject to discovery requirements at least in their individual capacities,
regardless of whether the official capacity claims will be dismissed. While the discovery as to
Defendants in their official capacities may overlap in some manner with discovery in their
individual capacities, this is not enough to warrant a stay in discovery at this time. Defendants
have not shown that allowing discovery to proceed prior to a ruling on the Motion to Dismiss
will significantly expand the scope of discovery.
Additionally, as noted above, unlike
Defendants’ previously filed Motion to Dismiss, Defendants’ pending Motion to Dismiss would
not be dispositive of the entire case. Moreover, given the amount of time that has already passed
since the events giving rise to Plaintiff’s claims, there is a danger that additional delay will
prejudice the parties’ ability to obtain full and accurate discovery. Consequently, the issuance of
a stay is not appropriate in this case based on the record before the Court.
Plaintiff filed a Motion to Add Defendant Bohannon in his Individual Capacity, to which Defendants
responded. (Docs. 29, 30.) That Motion in pending before the Court.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion to Stay.
SO ORDERED, this 15th day of June, 2017.
R. STAN BAKER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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