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Thomas v. City of Benoit

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

October 24, 2018

LINDSEY THOMAS PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF BENOIT, MISSISSIPPI & BILLIE WILLIAMS, in his individual and official capacities DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This Court has before it a motion to stay proceedings [17] filed by the defendant Billie Williams. Having considered the matter, the Court finds the motion should be granted.

         Background [1]

         Plaintiff Lindsey Thomas alleges that on January 1, 2017, Williams, who at the time was the Chief of Police of the City of Benoit[2], arrested him following an altercation that occurred between Thomas and another individual. Compl. ¶¶ 9-16 [1]. Williams placed Thomas into his patrol car and drove away. Id. ¶ 18. Instead of taking Thomas directly to the police station, Williams drove to a night club in Benoit that he owned. Id. ¶ 20. Thomas claims that on a prior occasion, Williams threated to kill him if he ever had to arrest Thomas again. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. Thomas believed that Williams was about to carry out his threat, and so when William:; went to enter the club, Thomas, still handcuffed, opened the car door in an attempt to escape. Id. ¶ 23-24. Williams, noticed however, and walked back towards the car, kicking it shut, and telling Thomas to stay in the car. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. Williams walked back towards the club, and Thomas again opened the door to run away. Id. ¶ 27. Williams, seeing Thomas run away, pulled his handgun and fired several shots, one of which struck Thomas in the leg. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Thomas was apparently able to escape. Id. ¶31.

         Thomas brought the present § 1983 suit alleging that Williams violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and that the City maintained an official policy, practice, or custom of using malicious and excessive force that caused Williams to injure him.

         On August 28, 2017, Williams was indicted on one count of aggravated assault in the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi for shooting Thomas. Indictment [1-1]. Williams now asks this Court to stay this case pending the resolution the criminal case against him.

         Analysis

         The Court possesses inherent power over its docket and the disposition of cases to grant a stay when necessary. "The decision whether ... to stay civil litigation in deference to parallel criminal proceedings is discretionary." United States v. Simcho, 326 Fed.Appx. 791, 792 (5th Cir.2009) (quoting Microfinancial, Inc. v. Premier Holidays Int'l, Inc., 385 F.3d 72, 77 (1st Cir.2004)). "'[T]he granting of a stay of civil proceedings due to pending criminal investigation is an extraordinary remedy, not to be granted lightly.'" Id. at 792-93 (quoting In re Who's Who Worldwide Registry, Inc., 197 B.R. 193, 195 (Bankr. E.D.N.Y.1996)). It is the burden of the party seeking the stay to overcome the "strong presumption in favor of discovery" and demonstrate why a stay is warranted. United States v. Gieger Transfer Serv., 174 F.R.I). 382, 385 (S.D.Miss. 1997) (citing Milton Pollack, Parallel Civil and Criminal Proceedings, 129 F.R.D. 201, 209 (1990)).

         District courts consider the following factors to evaluate whether a stay is warranted: (1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal case overlap with those presented in the civil case; (2) the status of the criminal case, including whether the defendants have been indicted; (3) the private interests of the plaintiffs in proceeding expeditiously, weighed against the prejudice to plaintiffs caused by the delay; (4) the private interests of and burden on the defendants; (5) the interests of the courts; and (6) the public interest. U.S. ex rel. Magee v. Lockheed Martin Corp., No. 1:09CV324-HSO-JMR, 2010 WL 2816658, at *4 (S.D.Miss. July 16, 2010) (collecting cases).

         I. Extent of Overlap in Issues

          "When the issues presented in the civil and criminal proceedings overlap, courts often feel compelled to grant a stay." Mosing v. Boston, No. 6:14-CV-02608, 2017 WL 4228699, at *3 (W.D. La. Sept. 22, 2017). "The similarity of the issues underlying the civil and criminal actions is considered the most important threshold issue in determining whether to grant a stay." State Farm Lloyds v. Wood, No. CIV A H-06-503, 2006 WL 3691115, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 12, 2006)

         It first bears noting that Thomas makes two separate claims against two defendants. First, he makes a § 1983 claim against Williams for violating his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by shooting him, as well as a common law assault and battery claim. Second, he makes a § 1983 claim against the City of Benoit for holding an official policy or custom that caused Williams to violate his civil rights.

         The issues presented by the civil claim against Williams and Williams' pending criminal case do not just overlap-they are identical. In each case the opposing party alleges that Williams shot Thomas in the leg. The State of Mississippi seeks to hold him criminally responsible for that act, and Thomas alleges that the act violated his civil rights. Further, at the time of these alleged events occurred, Williams was the Chief of Police for the City of Benoit. He was the official policymaker for the City. Thomas's complaint, and exhibits attached to it, allege several similar incidents of violence perpetuated by Williams. So, while the underlying issue s of the claim against the city are not identical, they are so substantially similar as to consider them overlapping. This factor weighs in favor of granting a stay.

         II. Status of the Criminal Case

          The Court must also consider "the status of the related criminal proceedings, which can have a substantial effect on the balancing of the equities." In re Adelphia Commc'ns Sec. Litig., No. 02-1781, 2003 WL 22358819, at *4 (E.D. Pa. May 13, 2003). A stay is 'most appropriate when a party to the civil action has already been indicted for the same conduct." Modern American ...


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