Allen v. AgReliant Genetics, LLC
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 21 MOTION to Stay Discovery. Discovery is stayed as to Counts 1 through 3 of the complaint, and as to depositions, until the earliest of either a ruling by the district court on defendants 15 MOTION for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, or 11/14/16. Signed by Magistrate Judge CJ Williams on 9/26/16. (djs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
AGRELIANT GENETICS, LLC,
This matter is before the Court pursuant to defendant’s motion to stay discovery
(Doc. 21) pending this Court’s ruling on defendant’s motion for partial summary
judgment (Doc. 15). Defendant argues that a stay is necessary to save the expenditure
of resources and to conserve judicial resources. Plaintiff resists defendant’s motion to
stay discovery, arguing that, although a stay would protect defendant from expense and
burden, it will not preserve judicial resources, is prejudicial, and risks the deadlines.
Doc. 23-1, at 3.
For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendant’s
motion to stay discovery (Doc. 21).
Plaintiff filed suit in state court, which defendant removed to this court. Docs. 13. Plaintiff alleges four causes of action in his complaint: Count 1 alleges breach of an
oral contract; Count 2 alleges detrimental reliance; Count 3 alleges constructive fraud;
and Count 4 alleges defamation. Doc. 3. Plaintiff alleged he began employment with
defendant as a District Sales Manager in about July 2013. Doc. 3, ¶6. Plaintiff alleges
there was no written employment agreement, but defendant verbally agreed to pay
plaintiff commissions and bonuses.
Doc. 3, ¶¶7 & 9.
Plaintiff alleges defendant
terminated his employment on December 17, 2014. Doc. 3, ¶19. Plaintiff alleges
defendant failed to pay him commissions and bonuses for the 2015 growing season. Doc.
3, at 6. Regarding his claim of defamation, plaintiff alleges that at some unstated time,
unidentified representatives of defendant company made defamatory statements about
plaintiff which injured his reputation and his occupation. Doc. 3, ¶¶53-57.
On May 25, 2016, defendant moved for partial summary judgment. Doc. 15.
Specifically, defendant moved for summary judgment on Counts 1 through 3 of the
complaint on the ground that they “fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”
against defendant. Id., at 1. Plaintiff filed a resistance to the motion (Doc. 16), to which
defendant filed a reply (Doc. 17). The briefing was completed in June 2016. The motion
On August 5, 2016, plaintiff served his First Set of Requests for Production of
Documents and First Set of Interrogatories. Doc. 21-1, Exhibit A. Plaintiff served
thirty-one separate requests for documents and forty-five interrogatories. Defendant
asserts that nearly all of the document requests and interrogatories seek information and
documents relevant only to Counts 1 through 3 of the complaint. Doc. 21-1, at 3.
Plaintiff does not appear to dispute this assertion. Doc. 23.
On September 2, 2016, defendant filed the instant motion for stay of discovery
pending this Court’s ruling on defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment. Doc.
21. On September 16, 2016, plaintiff filed a resistance to the motion and requested a
hearing “to review the pending and propounded discovery, hear arguments to deny the
Motion for Stay, and ascertain the relevancy of the discovery so to expedite the
responses.” Doc. 23-1, at 3.
On September 22, 2016, the Court heard argument on the pending motion to stay
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, district courts have
broad discretion to stay of discovery. Steinbuch v. Cutler, 518 F.3d 580, 588 (8th Cir.
2008) (citing Lakin v. Prudential Sec., Inc., 348 F.3d 704, 713 (8th Cir. 2003)); see also
Maune v. Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 83 F.3d 959, 963 (8th Cir. 1996) (upholding the
district court’s granting of a party’s request to stay discovery); Blair v. Douglas County,
No. 8:11CV349, 2013 WL 2443819, at *1 (D. Neb. June 4, 2013) (“[I]t is a settled
proposition that a court has broad discretion and inherent power to stay discovery until
preliminary questions that may dispose of the case are determined.”). Courts have used
various standards in determining whether to stay discovery, including: (1) whether there
is a strong showing that a claim is unmeritorious; (2) the breadth of discovery and burden
of responding to it; and (3) the risk of unfair prejudice to the party opposing the stay.
Chesney v. Valley Stream Union Free Sch. Dist., 236 F.R.D. 113, 116 (E.D. N.Y. 2006).
Courts may also consider the complexity of the action and the stage of litigation.
Chesney, 236 F.R.D. at 116. See also Benge v. Eli Lilly & Co., 553 F. Supp. 2d 1049,
1050 (N.D. Ind. 2008) (identifying three factors in determining whether a stay is
appropriate: “(1) potential prejudice to the non-moving party; (2) hardship and inequity
to the moving party if the matter is not stayed; and (3) economy of judicial resources.”).
This order addresses only defendant’s motion for a stay of discovery and does not
address whether the scope of propounded discovery was otherwise appropriate. Although
defendant argued a stay is appropriate because plaintiff propounded discovery directed
toward the first three counts of the complaint which are the subject of the motion for
partial summary judgment, defendant also argued that other discovery requests are
“beyond the reasonable scope of any of the claims and defenses before the Court.” Doc.
21-1, at 2 (emphasis in original). As noted, plaintiff sought a hearing, in part, to have
the Court “review the pending and propounded discovery . . . and ascertain the relevancy
of the discovery . . . .” Doc. 23-1, at 3. As the Court indicated at the hearing in this
matter, there is no pending motion to compel discovery before the Court. Moreover, the
parties have not attempted to meet and confer to resolve their discovery dispute, as
required by Local Rule 37. It would be premature and an improper use of judicial
resources for the Court to weigh in on a discovery dispute which, at this time, the parties
have not themselves attempted to resolve without court intervention.
Accordingly, the Court turns to the pending motion to stay discovery. Defendant’s
primary argument is that a stay of discovery will protect it from undue burden and
expense. At argument, defendant emphasized not only the extent of the written discovery
already propounded regarding Counts 1 through 3, but also plaintiff’s desire to take
depositions of witnesses on issues related to those counts.
Defendant noted that
depositions tend to be the most expensive part of discovery. Defendant also argued that
a stay will preserve judicial resources because defendant anticipates that the parties will
have discovery disputes that will require court intervention. Finally, defendant argued
that no party would be prejudiced by a “brief stay of discovery.” Doc. 21-1, at 5. In
his resistance, plaintiff generally argued about the reasonableness and relevance of his
discovery requests, and argued that “[t]o say discovery pending a ruling on the pending
motion will serve to limit the Plaintiff’s opportunity to appropriately investigate his
claim.” Doc. 23-1, at 2. Plaintiff reiterated that a stay “certainly is prejudicial to the
Plaintiff,” arguing that “[s]everal depositions are necessary in this matter and any delay
in securing these depositions risks the designated timeline.”
Doc. 23-1, at 3.
argument, the Court asked plaintiff to more specifically describe the prejudice he would
suffer from a stay of discovery. Plaintiff responded that many of the witnesses are
involved in the agricultural industry and the harvest season will make it difficult to
schedule depositions, so the parties need as much time as possible to schedule depositions.
Considering the factors other courts have identified in determining the propriety
of a stay of discovery pending a ruling on dispositive motions, the Court finds they weigh
in favor of at least a partial, temporary stay of discovery. The Court has reviewed the
briefing regarding defendant’s motion for summary judgment and concludes that
defendant’s argument is colorable; the Court will not opine further on the merits of the
motion, as that motion is not before the undersigned for decision. The breadth of
discovery requested by plaintiff in the written discovery is broad. It exceeds the time
period of his employment, and requests documents and information which likely contain
privileged and confidential business information.
Further, should only plaintiff’s
defamation claim survive, the currently propounded discovery requests would far exceed
the likely information subject to discovery. In reviewing the exchange of emails attached
to defendant’s motion to stay (Exhibit B), the tone of the current briefing, and the
representations of the parties themselves, it also appears that there will likely be discovery
disputes that will require the expenditure of judicial resources. If the Court grants the
motion for summary judgment, and thus narrows the scope of relevant discovery, it will
likely decrease the expenditure of judicial resources in resolving discovery disputes.
Staying discovery until the outcome of the motion is known, therefore, may save judicial
The Court finds the most compelling reason to grant the stay of discovery,
however, is the absence of any real showing of prejudice. Plaintiff has made only
conclusory allegations that he will be prejudiced.
Neither in his briefing, nor at
argument, was plaintiff able to articulate a concrete example of how a temporary stay
would cause him real prejudice. His reference to the harvest season even arguably cuts
against him; harvest is occurring now and will continue for the next two months. Farmers
and people employed in the agricultural industry will arguably be more readily available
for depositions in a few months than they are now. Trial in this matter is set for June
19, 2017, nine months away. That leaves sufficient time for the parties to complete
discovery without a need to continue the trial.
On balance, the Court finds a stay of discovery appropriate, but will limit the stay
in scope and time. The Court will stay discovery with respect to Counts 1 through 3, but
not with respect to plaintiff’s defamation claim in Count 4. Defendant has not made a
sufficient showing for a need to stay written discovery regarding Count 4. That count
remains viable at this time and is not the subject of a dispositive motion. The Court is
persuaded, however, that it would not be efficient or cost-effective to conduct depositions
on Count 4 because the possibility exists of having to repeat the process if the district
court does not dismiss Counts 1 through 3. Accordingly, the Court will stay depositions
as to all claims.
The Court also finds it appropriate to establish a time limit on the partial stay of
discovery. The discovery deadline in this case is January 14, 2017. It is possible the
district court will issue an order on the pending motion for partial summary judgment
soon, but the docket in this district is very heavy, and the caseload per judge very high,
so that is not guaranteed. Therefore, in order to preserve sufficient time to complete
discovery and prevent the need to continue the trial, the partial discovery stay will be
lifted either when the district court issues a ruling on the motion for partial summary
judgment, or on Monday, November 14, 2016, whichever comes first.
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants in part and denies in part
defendant’s motion for a stay of discovery (Doc. 21). Discovery is stayed as to Counts
1 through 3 of the complaint, and as to depositions, until the earliest of either a ruling by
the district court on defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 15), or
Monday, November 14, 2016.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 26th day of September, 2016.
United States Magistrate Judge
Northern District of Iowa
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?