Gearhart v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 21 MOTION to Stay filed by Osmel Martinez Signed by Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito, Jr on 5/19/23. (ms)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
AMY GEARHART, Individually and
as Administratrix of the ESTATE
OF EDGAR A. GEARHART,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:22-cv-01334
OF CORRECTIONS, et al.,
Now before the court is a motion by defendant Osmel Martinez to
stay these civil proceedings pending disposition of criminal charges
against him. (Doc. 21.) The plaintiff asserts various federal civil rights
and state-law tort claims against Martinez arising out of the decedent’s
murder. In essence, the plaintiff alleges that Martinez, a correctional
officer, was complicit in a vicious assault on the decedent, Edgar
Gearhart, an inmate under Martinez’s supervision, committed by
another inmate, defendant Nafese Pierce, who was also under Martinez’s
supervision at the time.
Martinez and Pierce are both currently facing criminal charges in
state court. Pierce is charged with criminal homicide, and Martinez is
charged with involuntary manslaughter. Both are currently awaiting
Martinez has moved for a stay. Although Pierce has not yet entered
an appearance in this case—indeed, the clerk has entered default against
him for failure to plead—this court has “the inherent power to sua sponte
stay discovery pending the resolution of a parallel criminal proceeding.”
Plaintiffs # 1–21 v. Cnty. of Suffolk, 138 F. Supp. 3d 264, 279 (E.D.N.Y.
2015). The decision to stay a case rests within the sound discretion of the
district court. Barker v. Kane, 149 F. Supp. 3d 521, 525 (M.D. Pa. 2016).
When deciding whether to stay a civil case pending resolution of a related
criminal proceeding, we consider the following factors:
(1) the extent to which the issues in the civil and
criminal cases overlap; (2) the status of the criminal
proceedings, including whether any defendants have
been indicted; (3) the plaintiff ’s interests in expeditious
civil proceedings weighed against the prejudice to the
plaintiff caused by the delay; (4) the burden on the
defendants; (5) the interests of the court; and (6) the
Id. at 525–26. A limited stay of discovery is within our discretion. See,
e.g., Piazza v. Young, 403 F. Supp. 3d 421, 446 (M.D. Pa. 2019) (imposing
limited stay of some discovery and proceedings with respect to certain—
but not all—defendants).
In her opposition brief, the plaintiff has conceded the first factor—
the overlap of issues between the civil and criminal cases. But she
contends that the second factor is neutral and that the remaining four
factors militate against a stay. We disagree. Both criminal proceedings
remain in the pretrial phase, and any attempt to obtain oral or written
discovery from these parties will more likely than not implicate their
Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination—particularly so in
the case of inmate Pierce, who would most likely be unrepresented if
deposed or served with written discovery. See, e.g., United States v.
Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 7 (1970) (criminal defendant forfeited his right to
assert Fifth Amendment privilege regarding answers given to
interrogatories in a prior civil proceeding); United States v. Bell, 217
F.R.D, 335, 339–40 (M.D. Pa. 2003) (recognizing that, while the content
of voluntarily created documents are generally not protected by the Fifth
Amendment, in some circumstances it may protect against the compelled
act of producing them in discovery). By contrast, we find no “particularly
unique injury, such as the dissipation of assets or an attempt to gain an
unfair advantage from the stay,” to suggest that a stay will prejudice the
plaintiff, particularly as we intend to permit the action to proceed with
respect to the other defendants. See Barker, 149 F. Supp. 3d at 528.
Meanwhile, we find that the coextensive interests of the court and the
public in the efficient resolution of litigation militate in favor of a stay,
and the public’s interest in deterring abuses of civil rights through civil
litigation will not be substantially impaired by a partial stay. See id. at
Under the circumstances of this case, having considered each of the
several Barker factors, we find a partial stay of litigation in this case—
limited to the two defendants facing related state-court criminal
charges—is appropriate and fair to both sides. All proceedings, including
discovery, involving defendants Osmel Martinez and Nafese Pierce shall
be stayed pending disposition of the respective state-court criminal
proceedings against them. For the duration of this partial stay, these two
defendants shall be relieved from any obligation to respond to any
subpoena, notice of deposition, written discovery request, or motion
papers served by another party in this case, with the exception of any
motion papers concerning the modification or lifting of this stay. The
other pending motions concerning these defendants—a motion to dismiss
filed by Martinez and a motion for default judgment filed against
Pierce—will be administratively terminated with leave for the movants
to re-file or request reinstatement of the motions when the stay is lifted.
The plaintiff will be directed to provide written notice of the status of
these defendants’ criminal proceedings every six months until the stay is
An appropriate order follows.
s/Joseph F. Saporito, Jr.
Dated: May 19, 2023
JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR.
United States Magistrate Judge
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