Rankin v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia et al
ORDER granting 8 Motion to Stay. Signed by Magistrate Judge G. R. Smith on 2/8/17. (jlm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
CHARLES R. RANKIN,
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE
UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF
GEORGIA, a State Agency,
CHIEF LAURA MCCULLOUGH,
in her official and individual
capacities, et al. ,
Plaintiff Charles Rankin brings this § 1983 action alleging that the
defendants violated his rights when he was arrested after an altercation.
See doc. 10 (Amended Complaint). Defendants have moved to dismiss
and to stay discovery pending disposition of that motion. Docs. 8 & 16.
Rankin, who is a Corporal in the Georgia State Patrol, went to “a
friend’s gathering” near Paulson Stadium at Georgia Southern
University. 1 Doc. 10, ¶¶ 17, 23, 26. He got into a scuffle, and defendants
Harry Jones and Kate Sullivan, Georgia Southern University Police
Department (GSUPD) officers, arrested him. Id. ¶¶ 35-38, 40, 65. They
transported him to the Bulloch County Jail, where he was booked on a
charge of affray under O.C.G.A. § 16-11-32. Id. ¶ 47. Rankin claims that
because he lacked the requisite intent his arrest was without probable
cause, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
Id. ¶¶ 60, 65, 67.
His subsequent detention, therefore, constituted false arrest (“Count I”)
and false imprisonment (“Count II”). Id. ¶¶ 64-76.
Rankin was released from jail, but sometime later defendant Terry
Briley, a Captain in the GSUPD, obtained a warrant for his arrest. Doc.
10, ¶ 50. He surrendered and was rebooked. Id. ¶ 54. The warrant, he
contends, was issued without probable cause. Id. ¶¶ 78-82. Accordingly,
defendants Laura McCullough, Chief of the GSUPD, and Briley engaged
in malicious prosecution in procuring and serving that warrant, a second
violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. 2 Id. ¶¶ 83-87. Finally,
For purposes of this Order only, the Court accepts the factual allegations of the
Amended Complaint as true.
As defendants point out, the Amended Complaint includes no factual allegations
concerning McCullough’s participation in securing the warrant. Doc. 16-1 at 14 n. 7.
McCullough “adopted or maintained” various “policies or customs”
constituting “a deliberate indifference . . . to the constitutional rights of
citizens, and [which] contributed to the violation” of Rankin’s rights. Id.
Each of the defendants discussed above is sued in his or her official
and individual capacities. 3 See doc. 10 ¶¶ 5-8. They move to dismiss the
Amended Complaint, arguing that any claims against them in their
official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that, in
their official capacities, they are not “persons” subject to § 1983 liability.
Doc. 16 at 5-7. Further, they argue that the Amended Complaint fails to
state claims against them in their individual capacities, or, alternatively,
that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 7-24.
Whether the lack of any such allegation requires the dismissal of Rankin’s malicious
prosecution claim against Chief McCullough is before the District Judge.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia continues to appear in
the caption and jurisdictional allegations of the Amended Complaint. See doc. 10, ¶¶
2-4. However, it does not figure in any of Rankin’s subsequent allegations, see
generally id. , and he concedes that his claims against it are barred by the Eleventh
Amendment. See doc. 11 at 1 n.1; see also note 4 infra. Hence, it is due to be
dismissed from this case.
Defendants have also moved to stay discovery pending the
resolution of their motion to dismiss. Doc. 8. The parties agree that a
stay of discovery “as to the 11th Amendment subject matter
jurisdictional issues” is appropriate. 4 Doc. 12 at 2 n. 1. Defendants
argue that any other discovery should be stayed, among other
arguments, because they have asserted a qualified-immunity defense.
Doc. 8 at 3-5; doc. 15 at 2. Plaintiff disagrees and wants to do discovery
on his remaining claims. Doc. 12 at 2-3.
In evaluating stays of discovery pending resolution of dispositive
motions, “a court must take a ‘preliminary peek’ . . . to assess the
likelihood that the motion will be granted.” Taylor v. Jackson , 2017 WL
71654 at * 1 n. 2 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 6, 2017) (quoting Sams v. GA West Gate,
Plaintiff’s concessions concerning defendants’ assertion of Eleventh Amendment
immunity are somewhat confused. As defendants point out, Rankin’s Amended
Complaint names the Board and the individual defendants in their official capacities.
See doc. 15 at 2 (citing doc. 10, caption , ¶¶ 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10). However, his
response to defendants’ motion to dismiss the original Complaint concedes that “the
claims against the Board of Regents and ‘official capacity’ claims are barred from suit
under the 11th Amendment, and no actionable respondeat superior liability exists.”
Doc. 11 at 1 n. 1. The recognition that the Board, and the individual defendants in
their official capacities, enjoy immunity from suit would seem to moot the question of
whether discovery should be stayed. See also doc. 12 at 2 n. 1 (conceding discovery
stay on Eleventh Amendment issues). However, Rankin has not withdrawn those
claims. So, they remain, along with the determination of defendants’ qualified
immunity, before the district judge.
LLC , 2016 WL 3339764 at * 6 (S.D. Ga. June 10, 2016). The Court will
do so here.
“Because qualified immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial or
face the other burdens of litigation, [cit.], questions of qualified
immunity must be resolved at the earliest possible stage in litigation.”
Gonzalez v. Reno , 325 F.3d 1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2003). One aspect of
the immunity is that it frees “officials from the concerns of litigation,
including avoidance of disruptive discovery .” Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S.
662, 685 (2009) (quotes and cite omitted). It protects “all but the plainly
incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law,” that is those who
violate a “clearly established” right or law. Mullenix v. Luna , 136 S. Ct.
305, 308 (2015) (quotes and cite omitted). The Supreme Court has
“repeatedly told courts not to define clearly established law at a high
level of generality.” Id. (quotes, cite, and alteration omitted). “The
dispositive question is whether the violative nature of particular conduct
is clearly established.” Id. (quotes and cite omitted).
Defendants argue that even under the charitable motion-to-dismiss
standard, Rankin’s contentions concerning his intent, or lack of it, do not
preclude probable cause for either of his arrests.
See doc. 16-1 at 11-15.
Further, a failure to sufficiently allege facts demonstrating the lack of
probable cause would doom his false arrest, false imprisonment, and
malicious prosecution claims. Id. at 13, 15, 18. And if he has failed to
allege any underlying constitutional violation, his claim against
McCullogh, based on GSUPD’s policies and procedures, also fails.
19. Finally, defendants contend, if the district judge found probable
cause for his arrests was even arguable, they would be protected by
qualified immunity. Id. at 22-24. Thus even if the district judge found
Rankin had sufficiently alleged lack of probable cause, qualified
immunity would still require dismissal if he finds that it is even arguable.
Defendants’ arguments have legs. There is a distinct possibility
that the district judge will find either that the Amended Complaint fails
to sufficiently allege facts showing a lack of probable cause, or that the
existence of arguable probable cause requires dismissal on qualified
immunity grounds. In either case, both parties would have wasted time
and resources pursuing discovery. 5 To preserve the full protection
Rankin states, without explanation, that a stay would “prejudice ... [his] ability to
more fully investigate his claims.” Doc. 12 at 3. Of course it would. But the Court
will do him no favor by sanctioning discovery on doomed claims.
conferred by qualified immunity, then, the Court stays discovery is until
the district judge resolves the Motion to Dismiss.
GRANTS defendants’ motion to stay pending
disposition of their motion to dismiss. Doc. 8.
SO ORDERED , this 8th day of February, 2017.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE ILJDGE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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