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Mayfield v. Butler Snow, LLP

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

November 21, 2017

ROBIN MAYFIELD, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
v.
BUTLER SNOW LLP, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the plaintiffs' motion for discovery. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Robin Mayfield and her sons assert wrongful death, § 1983, civil conspiracy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and similar causes of action against Butler Snow LLP, Donald Clark Jr., the City of Madison, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler, Madison Chief of Police Gene Waldrop, Madison Police Officer Chuck Harrison, Madison Police Officer Vickie Currie, and Richard Wilbourn III. All of the defendants have moved to dismiss. The briefing is nearly complete.

         In an ordinary case, the Magistrate Judge would have held a Case Management Conference (CMC) and charted a course for discovery. This suit was headed down that path; a CMC was scheduled for October 10, 2017. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(2) (“The judge must issue the scheduling order as soon as practicable . . . .”).

         The ordinary became extraordinary when the four state officials sued in their individual capacities (Hawkins-Butler, Waldrop, Harrison, and Currie) raised the defense of qualified immunity in their motions to dismiss. Their invocation triggered Local Rule 16(b)(3)(B). The Rule states:

Filing a motion to compel arbitration, or a motion asserting an immunity defense or jurisdictional defense stays the attorney conference and disclosure requirements and all discovery, pending the court's ruling on the motion, including any appeal. Whether to permit discovery on issues related to the motion and whether to permit any portion of the case to proceed pending resolution of the motion are decisions committed to the discretion of the court, upon a motion by any party seeking relief.

         As a result, the CMC was canceled and all discovery was automatically stayed. No separate motion to stay had been docketed or argued.

         Aggrieved, the plaintiffs filed the present motion. They contend that Local Rule 16 is overbroad and ask the Court to exercise its discretion to permit discovery. The defendants see it differently. With the parties having argued their positions at a hearing on November 15, 2017, the dispute is ripe for resolution.

         II. Law

         The parties find themselves between two principles of law. The first holds that a stay pending resolution of a motion to dismiss “is the exception rather than the rule. As one court observed, ‘had the Federal Rules contemplated that a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) would stay discovery, the Rules would contain a provision to that effect.'” Glazer's Wholesale Drug Co. v. Klein Foods, Inc., No. 3-08-CV-774-L, 2008 WL 2930482, at *1 (N.D. Tex. July 23, 2008) (citations and brackets omitted); see also Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 427 (2009) (“A stay is an intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and judicial review, and accordingly is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury might otherwise result . . . .”). This supports the plaintiffs' contention that Local Rule 16 is overbroad.

         The second principle cuts the other way. It holds that “[q]ualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly applied, it protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The sheer breadth of qualified immunity counsels against opening discovery.

         Local Rule 16 attempts to strike a balance between these principles. It has not always succeeded, see Thornton v. Blake, No. 3:08-CV-775-HTW-LRA, 2009 WL 5064753, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Dec. 16, 2009) (noting tension between the Rule and Fifth Circuit precedent), and has been the subject of controversy and revision. But any discussion of the Rule-especially in a case as complex as this-must begin with an appreciation of these foundational legal principles.

         III. ...


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