Cook et al v. McCain et al
ORDER granting 9 Motion to Stay Discovery. The parties are to file an amended Joint Status Report, with newly proposed discovery deadlines, within 14 days of the district judges ruling on the pending motion for summary judgment (R. Doc. 6) Signed by Magistrate Judge Richard L. Bourgeois, Jr. on 01/09/2017. (ELW)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
MITCHELL PAUL COOK
LOUISIANA WORKFORCE, L.L.C., ET AL
Before the Court is a Motion to Stay Discovery, or in the Alternative, Motion to Continue
the Scheduling Conference (R. Doc. 9) filed by defendants Robert Tanner, Sandy McCain, James
M. LeBlanc and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (“DOC”)
(collectively, “Movants”). The Court previously granted the Motion to the extent it sought
rescheduling of the scheduling conference. (R. Doc. 12). Mitchell Paul Cook (“Plaintiff”)
opposes the motion to the extent it seeks a stay of discovery. (R. Doc. 14).
Plaintiff initiated this action in state court. (R. Doc. 1-1, “Petition”). Plaintiff alleges that
on May 11, 2015, while housed at the Phelps Correctional Center, his eye was injured in an
accident related to a work release program run by defendant Louisiana Workforce, L.L.C.
(Petition, ¶¶ 5-7). Plaintiff further alleges that he was scheduled to have “urgent eye surgery” on
May 27, 2015, but his surgery was cancelled and he was transferred to the Elayn Hunt
Correctional Center on May 26, 2015. (Petition, ¶¶ 9). Plaintiff alleges that as a result of
repeated delays and prison transfers, including a subsequent transfer to the Rayburn Correctional
Facility, he did not obtain surgery until March 10, 2016, which resulted in “irreparable and
permanent damage” to his eye. (Petition, ¶¶ 10-18).
Plaintiff has sued Warden Tanner, Warden McCain, and Secretary Leblanc in their
individual and official capacities. (Petition, ¶ 19). Plaintiff seeks recovery pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§1983 for “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while incarcerated” in violation
of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights (Petition, ¶¶ 29-38); for “their deliberately
indifferent policies, practices, habits, customs, and widespread usages [sic] with respect to the
serious medical needs of inmates . . . and for their deliberately indifferent failure in training and
supervising their employees” (Petition, ¶¶ 39-45); and for state law claims, including gross
negligence (Petition, ¶¶ 46-51).
On September 28, 2016, Movants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that
Warden Tanner, Warden McCain, and Secretary Leblanc are entitled to qualified immunity on
Plaintiff’s “deliberate indifference claim.” (R. Doc. 6).1 The same day, Movants filed a motion
to dismiss (R. Doc. 5) and the instant motion seeking a stay of discovery (R. Doc. 9). The
motion to dismiss seeks dismissal of the claims asserted against Warden Tanner, Warden
McCain, and Secretary Leblanc in their official capacities, and against the DOC, on the basis that
they are not “persons” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (R. Doc. 5-1 at 3). In addition, the motion to
dismiss asserts that Plaintiff’s claims of failure to train and supervise and unconstitutional
policies and practices fail to state a claim. (R. Doc. 5-1 at 3-5).
Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows the court to issue a protective
order after a showing of good cause “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment,
oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1). Rule 26(c)’s “good cause”
requirement indicates that the party seeking a protective order has the burden “to show the
necessity of its issuance, which contemplates a particular and specific demonstration of fact as
“[D]eliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction
of pain’ proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, (1976) (citation omitted).
Movant’s assertion of qualified immunity addresses this “deliberate indifference” claim. Movants address
Plaintiff’s separate “failure to train and supervise” claim in the context of arguing the Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies. (R. Doc. 6-2 at 4-10).
distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.” In re Terra Int'l, Inc., 134 F.3d 302,
306 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting United States v. Garrett, 571 F.2d 1323, 1326 n.3 (5th Cir. 1978)).
“Trial courts possess broad discretion to supervise discovery.” Landry v. Air Line Pilots
Ass’n Int’l AFL-CIO, 901 F.2d 404, 436 n.114 (5th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). “A trial court
has broad discretion and inherent power to stay discovery until preliminary questions that may
dispose of the case are determined.” Petrus v. Bowen, 833 F.2d 581, 583 (5th Cir. 1987).
The qualified immunity defense affords government officials not just immunity from
liability, but immunity from suit.” Vander Zee v. Reno, 73 F.3d 1365, 1368 (5th Cir. 1996)
(citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 525-26 (1985)). Qualified immunity shields
government officials from individual liability for performing discretionary functions, unless their
conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).
The Fifth Circuit has long held that an assertion of qualified immunity shields a
government official from discovery that is “avoidable or overly broad.” Lion Boulos v. Wilson,
834 F.2d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 1987). As clarification, the Court explained that it is only when the
district court “is unable to rule on the immunity defense without further clarification of the facts”
and when the discovery order is “narrowly tailored to uncover only those facts needed to rule on
the immunity claim,” that an order allowing limited discovery is neither avoidable nor overly
broad. Lion Boulos, 834 F.2d at 507-08. However, discovery on the issue of qualified immunity
“must not proceed until the district court first finds that the plaintiff’s pleadings assert facts
which, if true, would overcome the defense of qualified immunity.” Wicks v. Miss. State Emp’t
Servs., 41 F.3d 991, 994 (5th Cir. 1995); Brown v. Texas A & M Univ., 804 F.2d 327, 333 (5th
Cir. 1986) (“[T]he issue of qualified immunity is a threshold question, and until this threshold
immunity question is resolved, discovery should not be allowed.”). This heightened pleading
standard requires the plaintiff “to allege the particular facts forming the basis of his claim,
including those preventing [the individual defendant] from successfully maintaining a qualified
immunity defense.” Wicks, 41 F.3d 994-995. “To overcome the immunity defense, the
complaint must allege facts that, if proven, would demonstrate that [the individual defendant]
violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.” Id. at 995.
In support of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s “deliberate indifference claim,” Movants
specifically rely on portions of Plaintiff’s prison records and medical records in support of a
finding of qualified immunity. (R. Doc. 6-2 at 12-18); (See R. Doc. 6-4; R. Doc. 7-3; R. Doc. 11
through R. Doc. 11-11). Courts within this Circuit have acknowledged that limiting discovery to
plaintiffs in a civil rights action where the individual defendants raise qualified immunity as a
defense through a summary judgment motion is inherently unfair.2 Here, however, Plaintiffs do
not oppose Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the basis that any additional discovery
is needed to oppose against the motion. Moreover, the parties have filed a joint status report
proposing that the discovery deadline in this action be set based in reference to the Court’s ruling
on the pending dispositive motions. (R. Doc. 18 at 7). Furthermore, if Plaintiff required
discovery to respond to Defendants’ qualified immunity defense, then Plaintiff could have
See, e.g., Estate of Sorrells v. City of Dallas, 192 F.R.D. 203, 209 (N.D. Tex. 2000) (lifting stay of discovery until
the issue of qualified immunity was resolved where individual defendants did not seek a ruling on their immunity
defense until they moved for summary judgment); see also Smith v. Luther, No. 96-69, 1996 WL 671630 at *2 (N.D.
Miss. Aug. 16, 1996) (“In this court’s view, it is inappropriate for [the] defendants to gain shelter from discovery
under the qualified immunity shield while simultaneously attacking plaintiff with documentary evidence from which
he cannot defend himself because of the discovery stay.”); Nguyen v. Louisiana State Bd. of Cosmetology, No. 1480-BAJ-RLB, 2014 WL 11515497, at *1 (M.D. La. July 25, 2014) (granting stay where defendants raised qualified
immunity in motion to dismiss, but noting that defendants did not file a motion for summary judgment, in which the
dispute of material facts is relevant).
sought such discovery pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.3
Accordingly, the granting of a stay in this action is not inherently unfair.
Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that the granting of a stay of discovery in
this action would not be inherently unfair and is warranted in light of Movants’ asserted qualified
IT IS ORDERED that the Motion to Stay (R. Doc. 9) is GRANTED. The parties are to
file an amended Joint Status Report, with newly proposed discovery deadlines, within 14 days
of the district judge’s ruling on the pending motion for summary judgment (R. Doc. 6).
Signed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 9, 2017.
RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rule 56(d) provides a tool to keep open the doors of discovery in order to adequately oppose a summary judgment
motion. Six Flags Inc. v. Westchester Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 565 F.3d 948, 963 (5th Cir. 2009). Pursuant to Rule
56(d), if the non-moving party “shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts
essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain
affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d).
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