United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division
KEVIN BERNARD DAVIS Plaintiff.
MATAGORDA COUNTY, ET AL. Defendants.
M. EDISON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
issue before the Court is whether to stay all discovery in
this case or allow certain discovery to proceed while the two
individual defendants appeal this Court's denial of their
motions to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court holds that Plaintiff Kevin
Bernard Davis ("Davis") and Matagorda County may
proceed with written discovery against each other, but all
other discovery is stayed until the Fifth Circuit issues a
ruling on the interlocutory appeal.
worked for Matagorda County on the Precinct 3 Road and Bridge
Maintenance crew. After Matagorda County fired Davis from his
position in early 2018, he filed this lawsuit against
Matagorda County, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Gibson
("Gibson") and Precinct 3 foreman William David
Anders ("Anders"). Davis claims that during his
tenure with Matagorda County he was subjected to a workplace
filled with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and
insult, all based on his race. He alleges that Gibson and
Anders were both aware of, participated in, and encouraged
others to participate in creating a hostile work environment.
In the First Amended Complaint, Davis asserts causes of
action for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C.
§1983, the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth
County, Gibson, and Anders each moved to dismiss the lawsuit
in its entirety. In seeking dismissal, Gibson and Anders both
asserted the defense of qualified immunity from Davis's
claims. The Court denied Matagorda County's Motion to
Dismiss and granted in part and denied in part Gibson's
and Davis's Motions to Dismiss. With respect to Gibson,
the Court denied him qualified immunity from Davis's
First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims. As far as
Anders is concerned, the Court denied him qualified immunity
from Davis's Section 1981 and Fourteenth Amendment
and Anders have each filed a notice of interlocutory appeal
with the Fifth Circuit, challenging the denial of their
motions to dismiss based on qualified immunity.
recently noticed depositions for 16 current and former
Matagorda County employees and officials, including Gibson
and Anders. In response to this flurry of activity, Matagorda
County filed a Motion for Protection, Motion to Stay
Discovery, and Motion to Quash Depositions and Subpoenas
Duces Tecum, asking this Court to stay all discovery.
See Dkt. 73. Likewise, Gibson and Anders have each
filed their own motions to stay the case pending the
interlocutory appeal. See Dkts. 89 and 90.
notice of appeal is filed from a district court's order
denying a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, the
district court loses jurisdiction with respect to any matters
involved in the appeal. See Alice L. v. Dusek, 492
F.3d 563, 564 (5th Cir. 2007). This does not mean that all
proceedings in the district court come to an abrupt stop.
Instead, "the district court may still proceed with
matters not involved in the appeal." Id. at
564-65 (quoting Taylor v. Sterrett, 640 F.2d 663,
667-68 (5th Cir. 1981)).
across the nation often issue a blanket stay of all discovery
pending an interlocutory appeal in qualified immunity cases.
See, e.g., Sosa v. Hames, No. 05-23079-CV-ALTONAGA,
2006 WL 1284927, at *1 (S.D. Fla. May 3, 2006) (staying
proceedings as to all parties during interlocutory appeal by
one officer based on qualified immunity "in the interest
of conserving the parties' and judicial resources");
Summit Medical Assocs., P.C. v. James, 998 F.Supp.
1339, 1342 (M.D. Ala. 1998) ("[A] stay of proceedings in
the district court is required where a public official takes
an interlocutory appeal to assert a non-frivolous claim to
absolute or qualified immunity."). These stays are
designed to protect public officials from "unnecessary
and burdensome discovery or trial proceedings" while the
interlocutory appeal is being decided. Crawford-El v.
Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998). See also Williams
v. Brooks, 996 F.2d 728, 730 n.2 (5th Cir. 1993)
("Immunity, whether qualified or absolute, is an
entitlement to be free from the burdens of time-consuming
pre-trial matters and the trial process itself")
(citation omitted). That being said, a complete stay of all
discovery pending an interlocutory appeal in a qualified
immunity case is neither mandated nor automatic.
a district court retains jurisdiction to proceed on unrelated
claims, it is fully within a judge's discretion to permit
discovery to continue on claims separate and apart from those
at issue in the interlocutory appeal, as well as those claims
brought against parties who have not moved for dismissal
based on qualified immunity. Indeed, examples abound of judges
staying selected discovery during the pendency of an
interlocutory appeal on qualified immunity while allowing
other discovery to proceed unabated. See, e.g., R.F.J. v.
Fla. Dep't of Children and Families, No.
3:15-CV-1184-J-32JBT, 2017 WL 11004970, at *l-2 (M.D. Fla.
Feb. 24, 2017) (staying discovery against two individual
defendants on select causes of action while an interlocutory
appeal is pending, but authorizing discovery to proceed
against those same individual defendants and a governmental
entity on claims not subject to the interlocutory appeal);
Stumpf v. City of Dallas, No. 3:15-CV-1944-N, 2016
WL 10749149, at *l-2 (N.D. Tex. May 25, 2016) (staying
discovery pending appeal against an individual defendant
asserting qualified immunity claims, but allowing discovery
against a municipality to proceed as to other remaining
claims); Harris v. City of Balch Springs, 33
F.Supp.3d 730, 733-34 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (same); KM. v.
Ala. Dep 't of Youth Servs., 209 F.R.D. 493, 495-96
(M.D. Ala. 2002) (staying discovery as to supervisors who
appealed denial of qualified immunity, but allowing
plaintiffs to collect limited information from those
supervisors who did not appeal the denial of qualified
defense of qualified immunity protects government officials
not only from having to stand trial, but from having to bear
the burdens attendant to litigation, including pretrial
discovery. See Aschroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685
(2009) ("The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity
doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of
litigation, including 'avoidance of disruptive
discovery.'") (citation omitted). To this end, there
is no question Davis is foreclosed from pursuing any and all
discovery aimed at Gibson and Anders relating to the claims
currently subject to the qualified immunity appeal. To his
credit, Davis does not quarrel with this basic premise.
Instead, Davis argues that he should be able to proceed with
full-fledged discovery relating to his claims against
Matagorda County since the qualified immunity defense is
unavailable to the County. See Owen v. City of
Independence, 445 U.S. 662, 638 (1980). In making this
argument, Davis readily acknowledges that the discovery he
seeks would include depositions of Gibson and Anders since
they are key fact witnesses with respect to his claims
against Matagorda County.
careful review of the First Amended Complaint reveals that
the allegations brought against Matagorda County are
inextricably intertwined with the factual allegations and
legal claims raised against Gibson and Anders. This is not
contested. The parties fully agree that the fundamental
premise of this lawsuit is that Gibson and Anders, as
Matagorda County policymakers, engaged in improper conduct
and/or failed to prevent improper conduct from occurring.
Given these allegations, Gibson and Anders ask "the
Court to stay all proceedings because the claims against
[them] and Matagorda County are so interwoven that [they]
would likely be forced to participate in depositions to
protect [their interests] while the Fifth Circuit considers
[their] interlocutory appeal." Dkt. 89 at 2. See
also Dkt. 90 at 5-6 ("[B]ecause Plaintiff complexly
intertwines his factual allegations and claims against all
defendants[, ] . . . Defendant Anders must participate in any
discovery in order to adequately defend himself and preserve
his rights. Therefore, only a stay of all proceedings
preserves the benefits of qualified immunity for Defendant
Court certainly recognizes that the testimony of Gibson and
Anders will be required no matter what happens with respect
to the interlocutory appeal. If the Fifth Circuit determines
that Gibson and Anders are not entitled to qualified
immunity, they will remain as defendants, with Davis fully
entitled to take their depositions as part of the discovery
process. And even if the Fifth Circuit finds that Gibson and
Anders are ...