Few et al v. Stafford et al
MEMORANDUM ORDER granting 50 Motion to Stay. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joseph H L Perez-Montes on 03/17/17. (crt,Tice, Y)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
CHRISTOPHER FEW, ET AL.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:16-CV-01513
CHIEF JUDGE DRELL
DERRICK STAFFORD, ET AL.,
MAGISTRATE JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES
This lawsuit arises from a fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on
November 3, 2015 in Marksville, Louisiana. Plaintiffs Christopher Few, Catherine
Mardis, and Candace Few assert civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well
as supplemental claims under Louisiana law.
Defendants Derrick Stafford (“Stafford”) and Norris Greenhouse, Jr.
(“Greenhouse”) were the officers involved in the shooting. Stafford and Greenhouse
are both charged with Second Degree Murder under La. R.S. 14:30.1 and Attempted
Second Degree Murder under La. R.S. 14:30.1 and La. R.S. 14:27. Stafford’s trial
began on March 13, 2017. Greenhouse’s trial is scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.
Pursuant to this Court’s instructions, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Stay
Proceedings (Doc. 50), which includes a summary of each Defendants’ position
regarding the stay and the pendency of dispositive motions.
To control their dockets and “in the interests of justice,” federal courts possess
wide and inherent discretion to stay pending civil matters. In re Ramu Corp., 903
F.2d 312, 318 (5th Cir. 1990) (quoting McKnight v. Blanchard, 667 F.2d 477, 479 (5th
“Certainly, a district court may stay a civil proceeding during the
pendency of a parallel criminal proceeding.” United States v. Little Al, 712 F.2d 133,
136 (5th Cir. 1983); accord Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393-94 (2007) (“[I]t is within
the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay [a] civil
action until the [underlying] criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is
ended.”) (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)). While the pendency of
parallel criminal and civil suits is not per se objectionable, “a stay contemplates
‘special circumstances’ and the need to avoid ‘substantial and irreparable prejudice.’”
Id. (quoting SEC v. First Fin. Group of Texas, Inc., 659 F.2d 660, 668 (5th Cir. 1981)).
For instance, a stay may be warranted “to preserve a defendant's Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination and to resolve the conflict he would face
between asserting this right and defending the civil action.” See Alcala v. Texas Webb
Cty., 625 F.Supp.2d 391, 397 (S.D. Tex. 2009) (citing SEC v. Dresser Industries, Inc.,
628 F.2d 1368, 1376 (D.C.Cir.1980) (en banc), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 993, 101 S.Ct.
529, 66 L.Ed.2d 289 (1980)). Accordingly, a stay may be warranted in a federal civil
case during the pendency of state criminal proceedings. See, e.g., St. Martin v. Jones,
CIV.A. 08-1047, 2008 WL 4534398, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 2, 2008).
“[A] mere relationship between civil and criminal proceedings and the prospect
that discovery in the civil case could prejudice the criminal proceeding does not
necessarily warrant a stay.” U.S. ex rel. Gonzalez v. Fresenius Med. Care N. Am.,
571 F.Supp.2d 758, 762 (W.D. Tex. 2008) (citing In re Ramu Corp., 903 F.2d at 320).
“The court considers the following factors when considering whether the civil action
should be stayed: (1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal and civil cases
overlap; (2) the status of the case, including whether the defendant has been indicted;
(3) the plaintiff's interest in proceeding expeditiously weighed against the prejudice
to the plaintiff caused by a delay; (4) the private interest of and burden on the
defendant; (5) the interest of the court; and (6) the public interest.” Atkins v. Se.
Cmty. Health Sys., CIV.A. 11-47-DLD, 2012 WL 370218, at *1 (M.D. La. Feb. 3, 2012).
And even when a stay is warranted, “immoderate” or “indefinite” stays are not.
McKnight v. Blanchard, 667 F.2d 477, 479 (5th Cir.1982).
Here, a stay is plainly appropriate. First, there is substantial overlap in the
criminal and civil proceedings. See Doe v. Morris, CIV.A. 11-1532, 2012 WL 359315,
at *1 (E.D. La. Feb. 2, 2012). The predicate facts are basically identical. And many
of the central questions to be resolved – including Stafford’s and Greenhouse’s
motivations for allegedly firing their weapons – will bear upon the elements of proof
in both proceedings.
Under these circumstances, the overlap between the two
proceedings strongly favors a stay.
Second, because Stafford and Greenhouse have been indicted and are therefore
more likely to incriminate themselves if this civil lawsuit proceeds, the “status of the
case” favors a stay. See id. at *2; see also Modern Am. Recycling Servs., Inc. v.
Dunavant, CIV.A. 10-3153, 2012 WL 1357720, at *3 (E.D. La. Apr. 19, 2012)
(“Generally, a stay of a civil case is ‘most appropriate’ when a party to the civil action
has already been indicted for the same conduct.”) (internal citation omitted).
Third, Plaintiffs do not claim they will be prejudiced by a temporary stay of
Fourth, no Defendant will be meaningfully burdened by a temporary stay.
Discovery and other pretrial steps can resume once the prosecutions are completed.
The outcome of those prosecutions may expand, or reduce, the issues presented in
this lawsuit. Thus, all parties, including Defendants, have an interest in allowing
resolution of the criminal proceedings before pursuing this lawsuit.
Fifth, “[t]he Court has interests in judicial economy and expediency.” Morris,
CIV.A. 11-1532, 2012 WL 359315, at *2. Again, judicial economy and expediency
would be best served by allowing the criminal proceedings – and any ramifications
that those proceedings may have upon the issues in this case or the rights of Stafford
and Greenhouse – to be resolved.
Sixth, “the ‘public has an interest in the resolution of disputes with minimal
delay, but only to the extent that the integrity of the defendant's rights can be
maintained.’” Id. (quoting Alcala, 625 F.Supp.2d at 397).
Given the current trial
settings in the criminal proceedings, the delay in this case will be relatively minimal.
All factors favor a stay. All parties consent to a stay of discovery. Some of the
parties disagree only about whether the Court should resolve dispositive motions
which do not require further discovery. Defendant Progressive Paloverde Insurance
Company (“Progressive”) argues its pending Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 46)
may be resolved without discovery, and accepting Plaintiffs’ allegations as true.
Defendants the Town of Marksville, Kenneth Parnell, III, the Parish of Avoyelles,
and City Court of the Town of Marksville also suggest that motions to dismiss and
for summary judgment which have been filed but require no further discovery may
be resolved. Progressive cites decisions from courts in this circuit and others facing
similar and dissimilar circumstances. Some of those courts imposed limited stays of
This Court recognizes its authority to impose a limited stay. It also recognizes
the need to “moderate” any stay to whatever extent possible. But in this case, the
interests of justice, and the balance of burdens, favors a stay of this entire lawsuit,
including dispositive motion practice, until the conclusion of criminal proceedings
against Stafford and Greenhouse.
From Plaintiffs’ perspective, resolution of the pending motions would be
compromising at best and unfair at worst.
Plaintiffs would have to respond to
dispositive motions without discovery, even when they feel discovery may be
Plaintiffs also may suggest that the Court pierce the pleadings in
considering motions to dismiss, or allow discovery to respond to a motion for summary
judgment, even one that raises only coverage issues. Even motions which raise
primarily legal issues may be impacted by discovery in some instances. Overall,
discovery may change Plaintiffs’ allegations, Defendants’ affirmative defenses, and
the nature of Plaintiffs’ responses to dispositive motions.
From Stafford’s and Greenhouse’s perspectives, the resolution of any
dispositive motions before or during their criminal trials may pose similar issues.
Further, Stafford and Greenhouse are, at this point, effectively prohibited from
making any representations regarding these civil proceedings given the risk posed to
their constitutional rights in doing so. Granting motions, and eliminating parties
and claims, may substantially affect their rights and posture in this lawsuit, even if
there is no such effect in the criminal proceedings.
And finally, from Defendants’ perspective, a stay of limited duration will not
impose any undue burden. Defendants’ dispositive motions will remain viable until,
and will be ruled upon after, the stay is lifted. Meanwhile, Defendants will simply
remain parties to this lawsuit, with a mandate not to expend resources upon
discovery or other affirmative litigation steps. The Court recognizes Defendants’
continued presence in the lawsuit is not inconsequential. But any consequence to
Defendants is substantially outweighed by the above-noted issues facing Plaintiffs,
Stafford, and Greenhouse.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion to Stay Proceedings (Doc. 50) is
hereby GRANTED, and this lawsuit, in its entirety, is hereby STAYED pending
further orders from the Court.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, within 30 days of the conclusion of the
criminal trial of Stafford or Greenhouse, whichever is later, counsel for Plaintiffs
shall contact the undersigned’s courtroom deputy to initiate a telephone status
conference to include all counsel of record and the undersigned. All participants will
be prepared to discuss the status of the underlying criminal proceedings, the
continued propriety of a stay in this lawsuit, and the pendency of dispositive motions.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, before the above-described telephone status
conference with the Court, all parties are prohibited from engaging in discovery,
seeking a default judgment, or engaging in motion practice of any kind.
THUS DONE AND SIGNED in chambers in Alexandria, Louisiana, this 17th
day of March, 2017.
Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes
United States Magistrate Judge
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