United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
ROBIN MAYFIELD, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
BUTLER SNOW LLP, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the plaintiffs' motion for discovery. For
the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part
and denied in part.
Factual and Procedural History
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.
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 . . . .”).
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.
result, the CMC was canceled and all discovery was
automatically stayed. No separate motion to stay had been
docketed or argued.
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
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
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.
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.