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Day v. City of Baton Rouge

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 13, 2018




         Before the court is a Motion to Stay Discovery[1] filed by defendants, Sid. J. Gautreaux, III, Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish (“Sheriff Gautreaux”), and AIX Group, d/b/a/ NOVA Casualty Company (“Nova”) (collectively, the “EBRSO Defendants”). The Motion to Stay Discovery is opposed by plaintiff, Travis Day (“Plaintiff”).[2] For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion to Stay Discovery is GRANTED.

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that discovery in this matter, with the exception of written discovery between Plaintiff and the non-moving defendants (i.e., parties other than EBRSO Defendants), is STAYED pending resolution of the issues raised in the Motion to Dismiss.[3]

         I. Background

         This suit arises out of the July 5, 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling and the subsequent protests that occurred in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 8-10, 2016. The instant suit is one of many lawsuits pending in this court stemming from the Baton Rouge protests. In the other pending suits, the EBRSO Defendants (and other law enforcement defendants) have asserted the defense of qualified immunity.[4] On May 14, 2018, the undersigned stayed discovery, with the exception of written discovery between plaintiffs and the non-moving defendants, in these other “protest cases” pending resolution of the issues raised in the various motions to dismiss asserting, inter alia, the defense of qualified immunity.[5]

         Per his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he “was arrested on July 9, 2016, near the intersection of Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway for ‘simple obstruction of a highway of commerce' while lawfully protesting the shooting death of Mr. Alton Sterling and racist policing in Baton Rouge.”[6] Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested on “false grounds, ”[7] was “detained in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, subjected to harsh detention conditions, and labeled as a criminal without just cause, ”[8] and that “[a]s a direct result of Defendants' actions and Plaintiff's arrest, ” he was terminated from his employment.[9]

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint names the following defendants: (1) City of Baton Rouge/East Baton Rouge Parish (the “City/Parish”); (2) Sharon Weston Broome, the Mayor- President of the City/Parish; (3) Sheriff Gautreaux; and (4) Nova, the alleged insurer of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's office. With respect to Sheriff Gautreaux, Plaintiff asserts that he

is the Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish and is an adult resident of the Middle District of Louisiana. The office of Sheriff is an autonomous political subdivision of the State of Louisiana. Defendant GAUTREAUX was responsible for the supervision, administration, policies, practices, procedures, and customs of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office (“EBRSO”). Defendant GAUTREAUX was and is a final policymaker for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. He was and is responsible for the hiring, training, discipline, supervision, and control of the EBRSO command staff, supervisors, and deputies. He is sued in his official capacity.[10]

         Plaintiff alleges that “each of the individual Defendants, acting in concert with one another and other known and unknown co-conspirators, conspired by concerted action to accomplish an unlawful purpose by unlawful means; among other things, to unlawfully detain, arrest, and imprison the Plaintiff for the purpose of silencing dissent against police practices.”[11] Per his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, [12] 1985(3), [13]municipal liability pursuant to Monell, [14] and supplemental state law claims.[15]

         Sheriff Gautreaux and Nova have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint.[16] In support of their Motion to Dismiss, the EBRSO Defendants assert, inter alia, that “Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Sheriff Gautreaux in his individual capacity and he is entitled to qualified immunity.”[17] The EBRSO Defendants contend that although “Plaintiff states that [Sheriff Gautreaux] is sued in his official capacity, ” “the allegations against Sheriff Gautreaux suggest that his [sic] is also being sued in his individual capacity.”[18] Specifically, the EBRSO Defendants aver that:

Plaintiff makes separate claims against all Defendants, including Sheriff Gautreaux, for conspiracy, false arrest, use of excessive force, First Amendment violations, as well as for municipal liability under Monell. For instance, Plaintiff alleges that each of the individual Defendants conspired to violate Plaintiff's rights. Further, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants, including Sheriff Gautreaux, and their agents falsely arrested Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, including Sheriff Gautreaux, employed excessive force or caused excessive force to be employed in arresting him. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, including Sheriff Gautreaux, lacked probable cause to arrest him and arrested him or caused him to be arrested in retaliation for his exercise of First Amendment rights. Finally, Plaintiff brings a First Amendment claim against Defendants, including Sheriff Gautreaux, based on their application of La. R.S. Section 14:97 to detain or cause Plaintiff's detention.[19]

         Per their Motion to Dismiss, the EBRSO Defendants assert that “[t]o the extent that this Court determines that Plaintiff is suing Sheriff Gautreaux in his individual capacity, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to state a §1983 individual capacity claim against Sheriff Gautreaux and he is entitled to qualified immunity as to any claims asserted against him in his individual capacity.”[20] In addition to seeking the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Gautreaux, the EBRSO Defendants argue that because “Nova is only sued as the insurer of the [sic] Sheriff Gautreaux to the extent that any and/or all claims are dismissed against Sheriff Gautreaux, they should also be dismissed against Nova.”[21] The EBRSO Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is pending.[22]

         On the same day the EBRSO Defendants sought dismissal of Plaintiff's claims, [23] they also filed the instant Motion to Stay Discovery.[24] Per their Motion to Stay Discovery, the EBRSO Defendants ask this court to stay discovery while their Motion to Dismiss is pending.[25] In their Memorandum in Support, the EBRSO Defendants aver that while they “have no objection to the non-moving defendants engaging in written discovery with Plaintiff, Sheriff Defendants object to the Plaintiff and non-moving defendants taking depositions in this case while Sheriff Defendants' motion to dismiss is pending.”[26] The EBRSO Defendants assert that if discovery is not stayed, they “would be compelled to participate in the depositions of the plaintiffs [sic], other defendants and/or fact witnesses if they are taken while their motion to dismiss asserting qualified immunity is pending.”[27] The EBRSO Defendants further argue that a stay of discovery “will prevent any undue burden and expense of Sheriff Defendants should the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint be dismissed or narrowed” and that “a stay of discovery in this case would promote judicial efficiency and economy since this Court granted stays of discovery in other protest cases involving similar if not identical issues as in this case.”[28]

         II. Law and Analysis

         “Qualified 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.'”[29]Qualified immunity “insulates Government officials only from liability in an individual capacity, but has no effect on liability in an official capacity….”[30] Because “a local governmental entity sued under § 1983 may not assert a good faith immunity defense, ” “[i]t necessarily follows that since actions for damages against a party in his official capacity are, in essence, actions against the government entity of which the officer is an agent, Government officials sued in their official capacity may not then assert good faith immunity as a defense.”[31] Accordingly, when a defendant is sued solely in his or her official capacity, that defendant may not assert the defense of qualified immunity.[32] Where a defendant is sued in both his official and individual capacities, qualified immunity may be asserted as a defense against the plaintiff's individual capacity claims.[33]

         In opposition to the instant Motion to Stay, Plaintiff contends that he “has not sued any individuals in this case, ” and that “Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Sheriff Gautreaux were sued only in their official capacities.”[34] Plaintiff characterizes the EBRSO Defendants' assertion of qualified immunity as “baseless”[35] and asserts that he “has made quite clear that the Second Amended Complaint asserts claims against Sheriff Gautreaux only in his official capacity.”[36]Plaintiff contends that “because the claims of the Second Amended Complaint are not asserted against any Defendant individually, qualified immunity cannot shield EBRSO Defendants from discovery.”[37]

         The question of whether Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Gautreaux are subject to the potential defense of qualified immunity (i.e., whether Plaintiff has asserted a claim against Sheriff Gautreaux in the Sheriff's individual capacity) is an issue to be decided by the District Judge in the context of the pending Motion to Dismiss. Until the District Judge considers the potential applicability of the qualified immunity defense, the undersigned finds that allowing discovery as to the EBRSO Defendants is improper because “qualified immunity constitutes an ‘immunity from suit' rather than a mere defense to liability.”[38] Further, because “[o]ne of the most salient benefits of qualified immunity is protection from pretrial discovery, which is costly, time-consuming, and intrusive, ”[39] the undersigned finds that staying discovery as to all parties in this suit would “further[] [the EBRSO Defendants'] interests in being shielded from the burdens of being required to participate in discovery (even discovery that is not directed specifically to them), pending resolution of the defense.”[40] Especially in light of Plaintiff's allegations that all defendants participated in a civil conspiracy in violation of Plaintiff's civil rights, the undersigned finds that the EBRSO Defendants would feel compelled to participate in discovery efforts, such as depositions of other witnesses, prior to resolution of the Motion to Dismiss. However, in light of the EBRSO Defendants' assertion that they do not object to the non-moving defendants and Plaintiff engaging in written discovery, the court will allow such written discovery to proceed.

         III. Conclusion

         For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion to Stay Discovery[41] filed by the EBRSO ...

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