WARTLUFT et al v. THE MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL AND SCHOOL TRUST et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER - The further discovery sought in this case is STAYED pending the resolution of the pending dispositive motion. Signed by Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson on August 24, 2018. (kjn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JULIE ELLEN WARTLUFT, et al.,
THE MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL
AND SCHOOL TRUST, et al.,
Civil No. 1:16-CV-2145
(Chief Judge Conner)
(Magistrate Judge Carlson)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case arises out of “a singular tragedy, the suicide of the plaintiffs' 14
year-old daughter in June of 2013.” Wartluft v. Milton Hershey Sch. & Sch. Tr.,
No. 1:16-CV-2145, 2017 WL 4698102, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2017). At present,
the pivotal legal and factual issues raised by this particular lawsuit relate to the
plaintiffs’ allegations that AB’s suicide was a result of unlawful discriminatory
practices by the defendants, and specifically the assertion that the Milton Hershey
School had a two-hospitalization policy which led to the expulsion of emotionally
fragile students once those students underwent two hospitalizations for mental
These allegations are hotly contested by the defendants and presently there is
a summary judgment motion filed in this case by the defendants, which argues that
there is no dispute as to any material issue of fact and contends that the defendants
are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on all of the plaintiffs’ legal claims.
(Doc. 158.) Briefing is not yet complete on this motion, and it is therefore not ripe
for consideration by the court. However the motion may potentially dispose of all
of the claims in this lawsuit. At a minimum, resolution of this motion will focus,
define and narrow the claims and issues in this litigation, a development which
would inform whether and to what extent further discovery may be needed here.
Notwithstanding this pending summary judgment motion, the parties remain
embroiled in discovery disputes, primarily relating to the defendants’ demands for
disclosure of communications between plaintiffs’ counsel and an advocacy group,
Protect Hershey’s Children, (PHC), as well as PHC’s President, an attorney named
Ric Fouad. The nature of this dispute is thoroughly outlined in correspondence
filed by the parties with this court. (Docs. 175, 180, 181.) As we discussed with
counsel in a telephone conference, these discovery disputes raise for the court a
series of sensitive and complex issues, the resolution of which may be entirely
unnecessary depending upon the outcome of the summary judgment litigation.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, given the current posture of
this litigation we will STAY further consideration of these discovery disputes
pending resolution of the summary judgment motion filed in this case.
Several basic guiding principles inform our resolution of the instant
discovery issues. At the outset rulings regarding the proper scope and timing of
discovery are matters consigned to the court’s discretion and judgment. Thus, it
has long been held that decisions regarding Rule 37 motions are “committed to the
sound discretion of the district court.” DiGregorio v. First Rediscount Corp., 506
F.2d 781, 788 (3d Cir. 1974). Similarly, issues relating to the timing and scope of
discovery permitted under Rule 26 also rest in the sound discretion of the Court.
Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). Thus, a
court’s decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a
showing of an abuse of discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129,
134 (3d Cir. 1983). This far-reaching discretion extends to rulings by United States
Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:
District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad
discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs.
Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572,
585 (D.N.J.1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a
discretionary [discovery] matter . . . , “courts in this district have
determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an
abuse of discretion standard.” Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224
F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D.Pa.2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United
States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D.Pa.1996)). Under that standard, a
magistrate judge's discovery ruling “is entitled to great deference and
is reversible only for abuse of discretion.” Kresefky v. Panasonic
Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J.1996); see also
Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45
(N.D.N.Y.1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under
abuse of discretion standard rather than de novo standard); EEOC v.
Mr. Gold, Inc., 223 F.R.D. 100, 102 (E.D.N.Y.2004) (holding that a
magistrate judge's resolution of discovery disputes deserves
substantial deference and should be reversed only if there is an abuse
Halsey v. Pfeiffer, No. 09-1138, 2010 WL 3735702, *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 17, 2010).
We also note that our broad discretion over discovery matters extends to
decisions under Rule 26 relating to the issuance of protective orders limiting and
regulating the timing of discovery. Indeed, it is undisputed that: “ ‘[t]he grant and
nature of [a protective order] is singularly within the discretion of the district court
and may be reversed only on a clear showing of abuse of discretion.’ Galella v.
Onassis, 487 F.2d 986, 997 (2d Cir.1973) (citation omitted).” Dove v. Atlantic
Capital Corp., 963 F.2d 15, 19 (2d Cir. 1992).
This discretion is guided, however, by certain basic principles. One of these
cardinal principles, governing the exercise of discretion in this field, is that the
district court may properly defer or delay discovery while it considers a potentially
dispositive pretrial motion, provided the district court concludes that the pretrial
motion does not, on its face, appear groundless. See, e.g., James v. York County
Police Dep’t, 160 F.App’x 126, 136 (3d Cir. 2005); Nolan v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
973 F.2d 843,849 (10th Cir. 1992); Johnson v. New York Univ. Sch. of Ed., 205
F.R.D. 433, 434 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). Briefly deferring discovery in such a case, while
the court determines the threshold issue of whether a complaint has sufficient merit
to go forward, recognizes a simple, fundamental truth: When there are motions
pending which present potentially meritorious and complete legal defenses to civil
actions , the parties should not be put to the time, expense and burden of additional
factual discovery until after these claimed legal defenses are addressed by the
In such instances, it is clearly established that:
“[A] stay of discovery is appropriate pending resolution of a
potentially dispositive motion where the motion ‘appear[s] to have
substantial grounds' or, stated another way, ‘do[es] not appear to be
without foundation in law.’ ” In re Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust
Litigation, 2002 WL 88278, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 22, 2002) (quoting
Chrysler Capital Corp. v. Century Power Corp., 137 F.R.D. 209, 20910 (S.D.N.Y.1991)) ( citing Flores v. Southern Peru Copper Corp.,
203 F.R.D. 92, 2001 WL 396422, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 19, 2001);
Anti-Monopoly, Inc. v. Hasbro, Inc., 1996 WL 101277, at *2
(S.D.N.Y. March 7, 1996)).
Johnson v. New York Univ. School of Educ., 205 F.R.D. 433, 434 (S.D.N.Y.
Guided by these legal tenets we conclude that the further discovery sought in
this case should be briefly stayed at this time until after the court resolves the
pending summary judgment motion. We reach this conclusion in accordance with
settled case law, finding that: “[A] stay of discovery is appropriate pending
resolution of a potentially dispositive motion where the motion ‘appear[s] to have
substantial grounds' or, stated another way, ‘do[es] not appear to be without
foundation in law.’” Johnson v. New York Univ. School of Educ., 205 F.R.D. 433,
434 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
An appropriate order follows:
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the further discovery sought in this
case is STAYED pending the resolution of the pending dispositive motion.
So ordered this 24th day of August, 2018.
S/Martin C. Carlson
Martin C. Carlson
United States Magistrate Judge
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