SEEMAN v. LOCANE et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Anne E. Thompson on 10/1/2015. (eaj)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
FRED L. SEEMAN, Individually, and as
Administrator of the Estate of, HELENE K.
SEEMAN, and CURTIS JAY ZUKER
Civ. No. 10-6597
AMY LOCANE and MARK C.
BOVENIZER, CARLOS SAGEBIEN, and
Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Fred L. Seeman’s and Curtis Jay Zuker Seeman’s
Motion to appeal Magistrate Judge Lois H. Goodman’s Order to stay formal discovery as to
Defendant Amy Locane. (ECF No. 114). Defendants Amy Locane and Mark C. Bovenizer
oppose the Motion. (ECF No. 115). The Court has decided the Motion after considering the
parties’ written submissions and without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78.1(b). For
the following reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion is denied.
Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendants Amy Locane and Mark C. Bovenizer on
December 20, 2010. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs alleged the following: On June 27, 2010, Ms.
Locane was intoxicated at a social event. (Id. at ¶¶ 40, 58). Ms. Locane’s husband, Mark. C.
Bovenizer, witnessed her intoxication, but nevertheless allowed her to drive away in his car. (Id.
at ¶¶ 58-60). Ms. Locane drove erratically, hitting mailboxes, speeding, and eventually hitting
Plaintiffs’ car. (Id. at ¶¶ 72-78). Mr. and Mrs. Seeman were both seriously injured, and Mrs.
Seeman died from her injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 78, 83).
On January 31, 2011, this Court ordered Plaintiffs’ case be stayed pending the outcome
of criminal charges against Ms. Locane. (ECF No. 17). On November 27, 2012, Ms. Locane
was convicted for causing Mrs. Seeman’s death and Mr. Seeman’s injuries. (ECF. No. 27). This
Court lifted the stay on Plaintiffs’ case on December 19, 2012. (ECF No. 33). Plaintiffs
subsequently sought to depose Ms. Locane. (ECF No. 100). However, Ms. Locane had
appealed her criminal conviction, and therefore requested that her deposition be delayed until the
resolution of her appeal, so as not to compromise her Fifth Amendment rights. (Id.). In a
conference call with the parties on August 14, 2015, Magistrate Judge Goodman noted that Ms.
Locane faced the possibility of a retrial. (ECF No. 114-3 at 7). Magistrate Judge Goodman
subsequently ordered formal discovery as to Amy Locane stayed until further Order of the Court.
(ECF No. 112). Magistrate Judge Goodman ordered the parties to continue with limited
discovery that would not interfere with Ms. Locane’s Fifth Amendment rights. (Id.).
Courts have the discretion to stay cases in the interests of justice. Walsh Securities, Inc.
v. Cristo Property Management, Ltd. 7 F.Supp.2d 523, 526 (D.N.J. 1998) (citing United States v.
Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 n.27 (1970)). The factors a court will consider in granting a stay in a civil
1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal and civil cases overlap; 2) the status
of the case, including whether the defendants have been indicted; 3) the plaintiff's
interest in proceeding expeditiously weighed against the prejudice to plaintiff
caused by a delay; 4) the private interests of and burden on defendants; 5) the
interests of the court; and 6) the public interest.
Id. at 527. The first factor is considered the most important. Id.; Colombo v. Bd. of Educ. for the
Clifton Sch. Dist., 11-cv-0785, 2011 WL 5416058, at *3 (D.N.J. Nov. 4, 2011).
In considering an appeal of a nondispositive order by a magistrate judge, a reviewing
court will modify or vacate an order only if it is “clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed.
R. Civ. P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c). A magistrate judge’s finding is clearly erroneous when, after
considering the entirety of the evidence, the reviewing court is “left with the definite and firm
conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Dome Petroleum Ltd. v. Employers Mut. Liab.
Ins. Co., 131 F.R.D. 63, 65 (D.N.J. 1990). A ruling is contrary to law if the magistrate judge has
misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law. Gunter v. Ridgewood Energy Corp., 32 F.Supp.2d
162, 164 (D.N.J. 1998). The burden of showing that a ruling is “clearly erroneous or contrary to
law rests with the party filing the appeal.” Marks v. Struble, 347 F.Supp.2d 136, 149 (D.N.J.
Examining the six Walsh factors, the first and most important factor, the extent to which
the issues overlap, weighs strongly in favor of staying formal discovery as to Ms. Locane. The
criminal and civil cases deal with the exact same subject matter, that is, Ms. Locane’s intoxicated
driving leading to Mr. Seeman’s serious injuries and Mrs. Seeman’s death. (ECF Nos. 1, 27).
The second Walsh factor, the status of the criminal case, also favors a stay. There is no doubt
about whether Ms. Locane will be indicted – she has been convicted, and may face a retrial.
(ECF No. 114-3 at 7). The third Walsh factor, concerning potential prejudice to Plaintiffs and
their interest in proceeding expeditiously, is a closer matter. Plaintiffs’ original complaint was
filed almost five years ago, and their case was previously stayed during Ms. Locane’s criminal
proceedings. (ECF Nos. 1, 17). The Court is sympathetic to Plaintiffs’ desire to not wait out
another potentially lengthy stay. However, Plaintiffs have not said how the delay will prejudice
their case. Discovery has been ongoing, and may continue except for formal discovery as to Ms.
Locane. (ECF No. 112).
The fourth Walsh factor, concerning the Defendant’s interests, weighs in favor of a stay.
Plaintiffs acknowledge that Ms. Locane retains her Fifth Amendment rights until her appellate
remedies are exhausted. (ECF No. 114, Pls.’ Br. at 9). As Magistrate Judge Goodman noted on
a conference call with the parties, without a stay, Ms. Locane would either need to waive her
Fifth Amendment rights in order to fully defend herself in the civil action, or remain silent and
sabotage her chances of prevailing against Plaintiffs. (ECF No. 114-3 at 8). Courts may force
defendants into this choice, but they also may choose to stay civil cases to avoid this scenario.
Walsh, 7 F.Supp.2d at 528 (citing Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 318-19 (1976)). The fifth
and sixth Walsh factors, regarding the public interest and the interest of the courts, do not weigh
heavily in either direction. Both the public and the courts have an interest in civil cases reaching
speedy resolutions, however, both also must be wary of compromising constitutional rights for
the sake of expediency.
Considering these factors, it is apparent that Magistrate Judge Goodman’s order was not
“clearly erroneous” or “contrary to law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c).
For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs’ Motion is denied. An appropriate order will
/s/ Anne E. Thompson
ANNE E. THOMPSON, U.S.D.J.
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