United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division
HIGHTOWER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
this Court are Defendants' Motion to Stay Pending
Resolution of Immunity Defense, filed on May 1, 2019 (Dkt.
No. 12); Plaintiff's Demand to Examine Exhibit B and
Affidavit of Probable Cause and Request to Stay on all
Proceedings, filed on May 8, 2019 (Dkt. No. 13);
Plaintiff's Motion to Unseal Affidavit of Probable Cause
and Attachment B, filed on June 10, 2019 (Dkt. No. 22); and
the parties' various response and reply
briefs. On July 15, 2019, the District Court
referred the above-styled case to the undersigned Magistrate
Judge for resolution and Report and Recommendation pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 72 and Rule 1 of Appendix C of the Local Rules of
the United States District Court for the Western District of
Texas (“Local Rules”).
October 24, 2018, federal agents from the Internal Revenue
Service-Criminal Investigation Division
(“IRS-CID”) and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (“FBI”) conducted a search of David
Schanzle's home and business, Gardens of the Ancients,
located at 4800 Yager Lane, Manor, TX 78653, pursuant to a
search warrant (“Warrant”) signed by United
States Magistrate Judge Mark Lane. On October 30, 2018,
Schanzle filed this lawsuit against Magistrate Judge Mark
Lane, Assistant United States Attorney Michael Galdo, FBI
Special Agent Susana Haberman, IRS Special Agents Laurel
Vant, Jon Gebhart and James Neff, and “6 to 8 unknown
agents” (“Defendants”) alleging that the
issuance of the warrant and the manner of its execution
violated his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights. Schanzle
purports to bring his lawsuit pursuant to Bivens v. Six
Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403
U.S. 388 (1971).
Defendant's Motion to Stay Discovery
1, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds
that Schanzle's claims were, among other defenses, barred
by qualified and absolute immunity. Pursuant to Rule 26(c) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants now request
that the Court stay all discovery and discovery related
proceedings pending the Court's ruling on Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss. While the Court could grant the Motion to
Stay as unopposed under the Local Rules, the Court will
address the merits of the Motion.
immunity shields “government officials performing
discretionary functions” from civil liability for
claims under federal law “insofar as their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 347-48 (5th Cir.
2004) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800,
818 (1982)). “[Q]ualified immunity constitutes an
‘immunity from suit rather than a mere defense
to liability.'” McClendon v. City of
Columbia, 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc)
(per curiam) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S.
511, 526 (1985)). The issue of qualified immunity should be
resolved at the earliest possible stage of litigation because
“[o]ne of the most salient benefits of qualified
immunity is protection from pretrial discovery, which is
costly, time-consuming, and intrusive.” Backe v.
LeBlanc, 691 F.3d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012).
Fifth Circuit has long held that an assertion of qualified
immunity shields a government official from discovery that is
“avoidable or overly broad.” Lion Boulos v.
Wilson, 834 F.2d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 1987).
Significantly, “it is only when the district court
‘is unable to rule on the immunity defense without
further clarification of the facts' and when the
discovery order is ‘narrowly tailored to uncover only
those facts needed to rule on the immunity claim,' that
an order allowing limited discovery is neither avoidable nor
overly broad.” Wilson v. Sharp, 2017 WL
4685002, at * 2 (M.D. La. Oct. 17, 2017) (citing Lion
Boulos, 834 F.2d at 507-508). Although discovery on the
issue of qualified immunity is possible, such discovery
“must not proceed until the district court first finds
that the plaintiff's pleadings assert facts which, if
true, would overcome the defense of qualified
immunity.” Wicks v. Mississippi State Employment
Servs., 41 F.3d 991, 994 (5th Cir. 1995). “If the
complaint alleges facts to overcome the defense of qualified
immunity, the district court may then proceed under Lion
Boulos to allow the discovery necessary to clarify those
facts upon which the immunity defense turns.”
Id. at 995.
discovery is only permitted after a determination
has been made that the plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts
to state a claim against the defendant. Even discovery
limited to the issue of qualified immunity is allowed only if
the court is unable to rule on the qualified immunity defense
without additional facts and then only such discovery as is
necessary to rule on the qualified immunity defense is
permitted. Because the Court has not yet determined whether
Schanzle has alleged sufficient facts to state a claim
against the Defendants in this case, it is premature to allow
discovery at this time.
on the foregoing, Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery
Pending Resolution of the Immunity Defense (Dkt. No. 12) is
GRANTED. IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that discovery in this case is
STAYED pending resolution of the issues
raised in Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiffs Motion to Unseal Affidavit of Probable Cause and
Request to Stay
asks the Court to order Defendants to produce the Affidavit
of Probable Cause and Attachment B to the Warrant pursuant to
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(b) and Franks v.
Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). Schanzle's request is
an attempt to conduct discovery in this case. Because the
Court has stayed discovery in this case, Schanzle's
Demand to Examine Exhibit B and Affidavit of Probable Cause
and Request to Stay on all Proceedings (Dkt. No. 13) and
Motion to Unseal Affidavit of Probable Cause and Attachment B
(Dkt. No. 22) are HEREBY DENIED.