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Few v. Stafford

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

March 17, 2017




          Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes United States Magistrate Judge.

         This lawsuit arises from a fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on November 3, 2015 in Marksville, Louisiana. Plaintiffs Christopher Few, Catherine Mardis, and Candace Few assert civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as supplemental claims under Louisiana law.

         Defendants Derrick Stafford (“Stafford”) and Norris Greenhouse, Jr. (“Greenhouse”) were the officers involved in the shooting. Stafford and Greenhouse are both charged with Second Degree Murder under La. R.S. 14:30.1 and Attempted Second Degree Murder under La. R.S. 14:30.1 and La. R.S. 14:27. Stafford's trial began on March 13, 2017. Greenhouse's trial is scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.

         Pursuant to this Court's instructions, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings (Doc. 50), which includes a summary of each Defendants' position regarding the stay and the pendency of dispositive motions.

         To control their dockets and “in the interests of justice, ” federal courts possess wide and inherent discretion to stay pending civil matters. In re Ramu Corp., 903 F.2d 312, 318 (5th Cir. 1990) (quoting McKnight v. Blanchard, 667 F.2d 477, 479 (5th Cir. 1982)). “Certainly, a district court may stay a civil proceeding during the pendency of a parallel criminal proceeding.” United States v. Little Al, 712 F.2d 133, 136 (5th Cir. 1983); accord Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393-94 (2007) (“[I]t is within the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay [a] civil action until the [underlying] criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended.”) (citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)). While the pendency of parallel criminal and civil suits is not per se objectionable, “a stay contemplates ‘special circumstances' and the need to avoid ‘substantial and irreparable prejudice.'” Id. (quoting SEC v. First Fin. Group of Texas, Inc., 659 F.2d 660, 668 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         For instance, a stay may be warranted “to preserve a defendant's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and to resolve the conflict he would face between asserting this right and defending the civil action.” See Alcala v. Texas Webb Cty., 625 F.Supp.2d 391, 397 (S.D. Tex. 2009) (citing SEC v. Dresser Industries, Inc., 628 F.2d 1368, 1376 (D.C.Cir.1980) (en banc), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 993, 101 S.Ct. 529, 66 L.Ed.2d 289 (1980)). Accordingly, a stay may be warranted in a federal civil case during the pendency of state criminal proceedings. See, e.g., St. Martin v. Jones, CIV.A. 08-1047, 2008 WL 4534398, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 2, 2008).

         “[A] mere relationship between civil and criminal proceedings and the prospect that discovery in the civil case could prejudice the criminal proceeding does not necessarily warrant a stay.” U.S. ex rel. Gonzalez v. Fresenius Med. Care N. Am., 571 F.Supp.2d 758, 762 (W.D. Tex. 2008) (citing In re Ramu Corp., 903 F.2d at 320). “The court considers the following factors when considering whether the civil action should be stayed: (1) the extent to which the issues in the criminal and civil cases overlap; (2) the status of the case, including whether the defendant has been indicted; (3) the plaintiff's interest in proceeding expeditiously weighed against the prejudice to the plaintiff caused by a delay; (4) the private interest of and burden on the defendant; (5) the interest of the court; and (6) the public interest.” Atkins v. Se. Cmty. Health Sys., CIV.A. 11-47-DLD, 2012 WL 370218, at *1 (M.D. La. Feb. 3, 2012). And even when a stay is warranted, “immoderate” or “indefinite” stays are not. McKnight v. Blanchard, 667 F.2d 477, 479 (5th Cir.1982).

         Here, a stay is plainly appropriate. First, there is substantial overlap in the criminal and civil proceedings. See Doe v. Morris, CIV.A. 11-1532, 2012 WL 359315, at *1 (E.D. La. Feb. 2, 2012). The predicate facts are basically identical. And many of the central questions to be resolved - including Stafford's and Greenhouse's motivations for allegedly firing their weapons - will bear upon the elements of proof in both proceedings. Under these circumstances, the overlap between the two proceedings strongly favors a stay.

         Second, because Stafford and Greenhouse have been indicted and are therefore more likely to incriminate themselves if this civil lawsuit proceeds, the “status of the case” favors a stay. See id. at *2; see also Modern Am. Recycling Servs., Inc. v. Dunavant, CIV.A. 10-3153, 2012 WL 1357720, at *3 (E.D. La. Apr. 19, 2012) (“Generally, a stay of a civil case is ‘most appropriate' when a party to the civil action has already been indicted for the same conduct.”) (internal citation omitted).

         Third, Plaintiffs do not claim they will be prejudiced by a temporary stay of this lawsuit.

         Fourth, no Defendant will be meaningfully burdened by a temporary stay. Discovery and other pretrial steps can resume once the prosecutions are completed. The outcome of those prosecutions may expand, or reduce, the issues presented in this lawsuit. Thus, all parties, including Defendants, have an interest in allowing resolution of the criminal proceedings before pursuing this lawsuit.

         Fifth, “[t]he Court has interests in judicial economy and expediency.” Morris, CIV.A. 11-1532, 2012 WL 359315, at *2. Again, judicial economy and expediency would be best served by allowing the criminal proceedings - and any ramifications that those proceedings may have upon the issues in this case or the rights of Stafford and Greenhouse - to be resolved.

         Sixth, “the ‘public has an interest in the resolution of disputes with minimal delay, but only to the extent that the integrity of the defendant's rights can be maintained.'” Id. (quoting Alcala, 625 F.Supp.2d at 397). Given the current trial ...

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