Hearn v. United States of America et al
ORDER denying DE 21 Motion to Stay. For the reasons set forth in the attached Order, Defendants' motion for a stay of discovery is denied. Ordered by Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke on 4/16/2018. (Budhu, Ryan)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
JOHN B. HEARN,
17-CV-3703 (ADS) (SIL)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, UNITED
TRANSPORTATION, UNITED STATES
MICHAEL STROUD, JAMES A. HELIS
and JOHN DOES 1-10,
STEVEN I. LOCKE, United States Magistrate Judge:
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ United States of America, United
States Department of Transportation, United States Merchant Marine Academy (the
“Academy”), Michael Stroud (“Stroud”), and James A. Helis (“Helis”) (collectively
“Defendants”) motion to stay discovery. See Docket Entry (“DE”) . By way of
Complaint filed June 19, 2017, Plaintiff John B. Hearn (“Hearn” or “Plaintiff”)
commenced this action for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative
Procedures Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701, et. seq., and the Due Process Clause of the
Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
See Complaint (“Compl.”), DE .
Further, Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants Stroud and Helis liable pursuant to
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91
S. Ct. 1999 (1971), which permits suits against federal employees for violations of
federal constitutional rights. See id. ¶ 2.
Approximately nine months later, Defendants now seek to stay discovery
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 26(c) pending
disposition of their forthcoming motion for summary judgment, which Plaintiff
opposes. See DE [21, 22]. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants’ motion is
The Court provides a summary of facts relevant only to Defendants’ motion to
stay discovery. This action arises out of Plaintiff’s expulsion from the Academy,
which is an educational institution tasked with training United States Merchant
See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 11.
Defendants Stroud and Helis are the
Commandant and Superintendent of the Academy, respectively. See id. ¶¶ 11-12.
In July 2014, Hearn enrolled in the Academy with an expected 2018 graduation date.
See id. ¶ 13.
On December 18, 2015, Plaintiff allegedly engaged in improper conduct and
was disciplined for a violation of the Academy’s regulations.
See id. ¶¶ 17-19.
Because of this incident, certain Academy staff members purportedly developed a
discriminatory animus towards Hearn. See id. ¶ 29. Hearn continued with his
studies, but in 2016, he was placed on academic probation and “set back” to the Class
of 2019. See id. ¶¶ 41-43. On March 8, 2017, Plaintiff was informed that he had
satisfied the terms of his academic probation. See id. ¶ 51.
However, Hearn shortly thereafter failed a project and, on May 10, 2017, was
notified that the Academic Review Board (the “ARB”) and the Dean had
recommended his dismissal from the Academy. See id. ¶ 60. Plaintiff claims that the
dismissal proceedings were inappropriately based on residual hostility emanating
from his 2015 disciplinary incident. See id. ¶ 65. In support, Hearn states that his
scholastic achievement was sufficient to avoid academic disenrollment as he
estimates that his total grade point average was far above the required minimum.
See id. ¶ 59. Plaintiff scheduled a hearing to appeal the recommendation, but was
denied the opportunity to submit a statement explaining the academic deficiency or
review his previously-graded course materials in violation of the Academy’s internal
procedures. See id. ¶¶ 61-63. During the hearing, Helis specifically referenced the
December 18, 2015 incident and denied the appeal, thereby dismissing Hearn from
the Academy. See id. ¶¶ 64, 73.
Based on the allegations above, Plaintiff commenced this action seeking
declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the APA and the Due Process Clause of
the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.1 See DE . Defendants interposed
an Answer, see DE , and this Court thereafter entered a Scheduling Order setting
forth various discovery deadlines. See DE . After approximately nine months of
litigation, the parties requested a pre-motion conference seeking permission to
submit their respective motions for summary judgment, which is currently scheduled
for April 18, 2018. See DE . In the interim, Defendants now move this Court to
stay discovery pending the resolution of their summary judgment motion practice or,
in the alternative, that discovery be stayed until the pre-motion conference.
Hearn asserts both a substantive and procedural due process claim. See generally Compl.
For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion is denied. Under Fed. R.
Civ. P. 26(c), a district court may stay discovery during the pendency of a dispositive
motion for “good cause” shown. See Abbott Labs. v. Adelphia Supply USA, No. 2015cv-5826, 2016 WL 4148323, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2016). However, it is well-settled
that “the mere filing of a dispositive motion does not, by itself, provide good cause.”
Long Island Hous. Servs., Inc. v. Nassau Cty. Indus. Dev. Agency, No. 14-cv-3307,
2015 WL 7756122, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2015). “Instead, district courts have
considered the following factors in determining whether a stay of discovery is
appropriate pending the outcome of a dispositive motion: (1) whether the defendant
has made a strong showing that the plaintiff’s claim is unmeritorious; (2) the breadth
of discovery and the burden of responding to it; and (3) the risk of unfair prejudice to
the party opposing the stay.” Id. (internal citations omitted). Applying these factors,
the Court finds that Defendants have failed to demonstrate sufficient “good cause” to
warrant a stay of discovery.
Regarding the first factor, the Court is unable to conclude that Plaintiff’s
claims are unmeritorious. Significant to Hearn’s procedural due process claim, there
are “far less stringent procedural requirements” for dismissals based on academic
issues as compared to disciplinary incidents. Dean v. Univ. at Buffalo Sch. of Med. &
Biomedical Scis., 804 F.3d 178, 191-92 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Bd. of Curators of Univ.
of Missouri v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 86, 98 S. Ct. 948, 952 (1978)). In the context of
academic dismissals, a student is afforded procedural due process where (1) the school
has “fully informed the student of the faculty’s dissatisfaction [ . . . ] and the danger
that this posed to timely graduation and continued enrollment,” and (2) the ultimate
decision to dismiss the student was careful and deliberate.” Dean, 804 F.3d at 191
(internal quotations omitted).
In contrast, disciplinary disenrollment entitles a
student to “oral or written notice of the charges against him and, if he denies them,
an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and an opportunity to present his
side of the story.” Horowitz, 435 U.S. at 85, 98 S. Ct. at 952 (quoting Goss v. Lopez,
419 U.S. 565, 581, 95 S.Ct. 729, 740 (1975)). To that end, procedural due process
contemplates an “opportunity [for the student] to characterize his conduct and put it
in what he deems the proper context.” Horowitz, 435 U.S. at 86, 98 S. Ct. at 953
(quoting Goss, 419 U.S. at 584, 95 S. Ct. at 741).
Here, Hearn alleges that his disenrollment was disciplinary in nature and
based, in part, upon his December 18, 2015 incident. In support, Plaintiff claims that
he was denied both the opportunity to submit a deficiency statement and review his
prior course materials. As a result, Hearn alleges that he was deprived of a fair
opportunity to present a defense. In opposition, Defendants fail to address these
allegations and summarily claim that Plaintiff was dismissed solely for academic
reasons. Therefore, given this conflict, the Court is unable to conclude that, at the
very least, Hearn’s procedural due process claim will not survive the forthcoming
summary judgment motion practice. Accordingly, Defendants have failed to make a
sufficiently “strong showing” that Plaintiff’s claims are unmeritorious.
Moreover, Defendants fail to address the second and third applicable factors
altogether. Nevertheless, the Court finds that they also militate against a stay of
discovery. Regarding the second factor, there is no indication that Hearn’s discovery
demands are overly broad or unduly burdensome. Finally, as to the third factor, the
ultimate relief Plaintiff seeks is reinstatement to the Academy. Accordingly, any
delay in the resolution of the instant action would further compound his purportedly
wrongful expulsion, and therefore, result in unfair prejudice. As a result, the Court
concludes that Defendants have failed to demonstrate “good cause,” and the motion
to stay discovery is denied.
For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants’ motion for a stay of discovery is
Central Islip, New York
April 16, 2018
s/ Steven I. Locke
STEVEN I. LOCKE
United States Magistrate Judge
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